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April 28, 2022updated 30 Sep 2022 11:16am

UK ad spend 2021: News industry bounces back, Duopoly biggest winners

By Andrew Kersley

The UK media industry regained hundreds of millions of pounds in advertising revenue last year following a marketing spend collapse in 2020, a new report on UK ad spend in 2021 shows.

Total adspend across national newsbrands was up 14% to £846m in 2021. Regional newsbrands’ total was £510.5m, up 9%. Magazine advertising totalled £556.4m, according to the latest Advertising Association/WARC Expenditure Report, which was published today.

In all three categories, the majority of growth was generated through online advertising. However, none of the sectors recovered enough last year to return to pre-pandemic levels.

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Overall, the report found that a record £31.9bn was spent on advertising in the UK last year. The two largest sectors, dominated by digital duopoly Google and Meta, were search (which accounted for £11.7bn of the total and grew by 39% year on year) and online display (£10.8bn, up 47%).

TV advertising grew by 24% between 2020 and 2021 to £5.5bn. Radio spend was up 25% to £718.7m. All other categories measured by AA/Warc also grew last year.

Adspend in the news media industry was steadily declining in the years before the pandemic. In 2017, the national news media’s adspend was more than £1bn.

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The UK's overall ad market is forecast to grow by 10.7% this year to £35.3bn, driven by a strong start to the year.

But the report also predicted that growth in the news media industry would drop in the coming years.

The magazine and regional news sectors are expected to have the largest reduction in adspend, with regional news predicted to fall 4.8% in 2022 and 7.3% in 2023, and magazines set to drop by 1.6% in 2022 and 5.3% in 2023.

Regional news has seen an even more dramatic drop in advertising revenue than national newspapers. Since 2017, the sector's adspend in the UK has fallen from £887m to the £510.5m listed this year. By 2023, that is predicted by WARC to drop a further £60m to £450.2m.

Advertising Association chief executive Stephen Woodford said: “The UK has held its position in 2021 as the largest advertising market in Europe through the pandemic and is now the third-largest in the world, behind the USA and China.

“While further growth is forecast, inflationary pressures on the cost of advertising, and more generally, due to the ongoing geopolitical uncertainties, mean we should be cautious.”

“The Covid-19 recovery last year was buoyed in part by the release of pent-up investment on established online platforms – as well as maturing ones such as Tiktok – and in part by the emergence of retail media as a major contender for marketing budgets,” added WARC director of data, intelligence and forecasting James McDonald. “The latter trend bears the hallmark of a new era in advertising, one which is set to fuel growth over the forecast period and beyond.”

He went on to say that despite the “uncertainty” created by conflict in Europe and supply chain pressures, he did not expect that to translate into a recession for the advertising sector in the coming months.

Other figures were less optimistic. Harriet Durnford-Smith, chief marketing officer at marketing analytics platform Adverity, said: "This may look like good news, but in reality, it means that marketers are going to have even more competition to stand out and be heard.

“With three in every four pounds now being spent online, the competition for share of attention is massive. The question now is whether this increase in money is actually increasing performance?"

Picture: REUTERS / Hannah McKay

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