Guarded optimism forecast for 2008

Despite economic uncertainty, ad spend forecasts for 2008 aren't too bad, says Isabella Piasecka.

One of the most striking things in ZenithOptimedia's latest UK advertising forecast, published last week, is the prediction that newspapers will see a return to growth in 2008 after three years of decline.

Zenith puts next year's growth for all newspapers - both regional and national - at 1.1%, after a 1.8% decline this year and a 4.3% decline in 2006. The talk is not of a dazzling turnaround, but of a recovery nonetheless, underpinned, Zenith says, by a 12% increase in colour advertising, which has boosted national press revenues.

And the rate of decline in regional press advertising expenditure has also slowed in 2007, due to a greater focus on content innovation, brand extension and portfolio publishing.

Next year, says Zenith, the improving trend will continue, notwithstanding the economic aftershocks from the recent US property slump.

But not all commentators agree. In July, WPP's media investment arm GroupM issued the following warning about national newspapers as part of its annual UK media forecast: "No one is predicting that the market is actually turning. Revenue continues to chase circulations down. Rising colour availability is the only thing keeping yields up, but this is a shrinking parachute."

Flat growth

GroupM predicts that ad spend in national newspapers in 2008 will decline by 1.7%, compared to a drop of 3% this year. For regional newspapers, it says the year-on-year decline will remain at 3.9%, due to continued falls in both motors and recruitment advertising.

Meanwhile, the 2008 forecast by Omnicom's media buying arm OPera points to flat growth for national press revenues at 1% and a slowing decline in ad spend across regional press of 1.5%. That represents a total predicted drop next year of 0.5%.

Yet Neil Mortensen, research director at OPera, says: "Press isn't really in trouble. It is simply going through a process of change, as consumers change. There is still and will remain a massive place for newspapers in the lives of consumers."

Although GroupM and OPera fall short of predicting growth, all three forecasts hint at healthier months ahead, even if that means just a shallower drop. And, as Alan Brydon, head of press at MPG, notes, the direction of change is crucial. He says: "I'm a great believer in momentum. If enough people talk up the market then it will improve, because people respond to what their competitors are saying and doing."

The television advertising market is another that warrants quiet optimism. After what GroupM describes as a "pretty noxious" year in 2006 - with fast-moving consumer goods budget cutting, migration of spend online and hefty contract rights renewal adjustments that considerably dented TV revenues - the market seems to be returning to growth, however modest.

The consensus among the big agency forecasters points to a rise in ad spend next year of up to 3%, despite the UK's absence from Euro 2008. It might be that the market is merely correcting itself; nevertheless, there is no suggestion of a repeat downturn.

Zenith has also forecast that growth in internet ad spend will slow significantly in 2008, to 25.6% down from 38.6% the previous year. That compares to OPera's estimate of 24.7% growth in 2008, down from 38.9% in 2007. Is the UK market reaching saturation point? Not according to OPera's Mortensen, who insists the medium continues to attract new advertisers.

He explains: "There is still growth to come as penetration increases. Online is growing at a faster rate than the market average and that's what leads to more share."

Internet growth

By all accounts, the internet has been steadily adding market share for more than a decade, not only in the UK, where newspapers' loss in terms of motoring and recruitment advertising has been the internet's gain, but also globally.

Mortensen adds: "By 2010, the internet will overtake magazines to become the world's third-largest advertising medium, with 11.5% of total ad spend. It will all bottom out sooner or later into a natural order, but not for a while."

With outdoor advertising revenues expected to swell by an average 6% in 2008, and radio by up to 3.4%, the overall picture for 2008 is one of modest growth, not dissimilar to predictions for the UK's overall GDP. In the third-quarter IPA/Bellwether Report main media spend was revised up by a record 9.2%, reflecting healthy growth in broader marketing spend.

No one can predict with certainty the impact on marketing budgets of the credit squeeze, creeping oil prices and fallout from the US sub-prime mortgage fiasco. But the relatively encouraging forecasts show there is some cause for optimism if the overall economy can avoid talking itself into an artificial recession.

AD SPEND FORECASTS 2008

- ZenithOptimedia

Internet: +25.6%

Total newspapers: +1.1%

National newspapers: +1.2%

Regional newspapers: +1%

Total magazines: +0.1%

Outdoor: +6%

Radio: +1.9%

Cinema: +1.8%

- GroupM

Internet: +30.4%

National newspapers: -1.7%

Regional newspapers: -3.9%

Consumer magazines: +0.8%

B2B magazines: +0.5%

Outdoor: +5.9%

Radio: +1.1%

Cinema: +3%

- OPera

Internet: +24.7%

Total newspapers: -0.5%

Total press: -0.3%

National newspapers: +1%

Regional newspapers: -1.5%

Total magazines: 0%

Outdoor: +4.7%

Radio: +3%

Cinema: +0.2%

NB: OPera's TV and radio figures only include spot advertising.

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