Online reviews are a vital input for consumer decision-making. However, reviews are easy to manipulate, and widespread fraud is undermining credibility and raising the issue of consumer protection.

Facebook, Google, and Amazon utilise reviews to improve the consumer experience, but also to sell advertising to businesses and to address fraud. These companies leverage their data superiority to better utilise reviews on their platforms, and possess a competitive advantage, versus sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, and eBay.

Demand for expert opinion remains strong, yet is supplied only by publishers and Which?, a small segment in terms of share of traffic relative to platforms.

Ofcom’s recommendations to Government suggest updating EPG prominence legislation to cover connected TVs, and were warmly welcomed by the PSBs

Balancing various commercial, PSB and consumer interests will be key; determining what content qualifies for prominence will be a particularly thorny issue to resolve

Extending prominence to smart TVs and streaming sticks is critical, but implementation will be challenging

UK online advertising spend continued its double-digit growth in 2018, up 11% to reach nearly £13bn in annual spend or 58% of the total advertising market, but a no-deal consumer downturn could nearly stop growth this year

Google, Facebook, Amazon, professional services firms and the largest marketing cloud companies are the biggest winners, while content media, media agencies and independent advertising technology firms languish 

Self-regulation has improved as pressure mounts on advertising technology firms, but interventions by both privacy and competition authorities are now inevitable

Our central case forecast with orderly EU withdrawal predicts 2.7% growth for total UK advertising spend, down from 4.7% in 2018. We have a no-deal Brexit scenario that predicts a smaller advertising recession than in 2009, with total ad spend declining 3% and display down 5.3% in 2019

The total advertising figures partly mask the pressure on UK consumers, through an expansion of the measured advertising spend universe. This is due to significant self-serve online advertising growth by SMEs, and non-advertising marketing budgets moving to online advertising platforms

In a downturn, we’d expect advertisers to become more tactical, which would disproportionally affect display media including TV, which is further affected by declining commercial impacts among younger adults. Search and social advertising would see only small growth through the first year of a recession

The ban on pre-9pm TV ads for HFSS (high in fat, salt or sugar) products being considered by the Government would not play a constructive or quantifiable role in reversing the UK’s rising childhood obesity rates. 

The ban on HFSS product ads since 2008 around children’s programming has not impeded the inexorable rise of childhood obesity. In 2010, Ofcom termed an HFSS watershed ban ‘disproportionate’ and ‘ineffective’. 

In 2018, a watershed ban would be even less effective. Children’s linear broadcast TV viewing is down by half since 2010, mainly to YouTube’s advantage, which benefits from light-touch HFSS regulation.
 

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has provisionally found that Fox’s acquisition of Sky is against the public interest on media plurality grounds, although it could proceed with an appropriate remedy

The CMA found the merger would give the Murdoch Family Trust (MFT) and family members “too much influence over public opinion and the political agenda”

The CMA now enters the challenging remedies phase. Fox could offer an Editorial Board for Sky News pending finalisation of Disney-Fox (by 2019). Third parties seem likely to continue to seek to prohibit the merger

21CF’s bid for 100% ownership of Sky has been referred for a Phase 2 investigation to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which will decide by 6 March 2018

Third parties Avaaz and Ed Miliband MP complain of the influence of the Murdoch Family Trust (MFT) and family members over the UK’s news agenda and political process 

A remedy could insulate Sky News from this influence. The offer of a Sky News Editorial Board at Phase 1 was refused. Third parties will ensure the debate in Phase 2 is very lively

Secretary of State (SoS) Karen Bradley has made an initial decision to refer 21CF’s bid for Sky to the Competition Markets Authority (CMA) for a detailed consideration of media plurality concerns, to be finalised in the near future

The issue at hand is the potential increase in the influence of the members of the Murdoch Family Trust (MFT) over the UK’s news agenda and political process. The SoS rejected the remedy for Sky News brokered by Ofcom

Ofcom’s non-negative decision on the fitness and propriety of 21CF to hold Sky’s broadcast licences cleared another hurdle in the event the merger is finally accepted