Online advertising growth at big tech firms has flatlined, with real-term declines at Meta and YouTube. The weakness is concentrated in higher funnel ads.

Advertising is a leading indicator. A hardware slowdown is coming, services growth is stuttering, and businesses will want to save on cloud services.

Investors are hostile to attempts to spend through a downturn, but competition from TikTok and developments in AI demand targeted investment, while Meta is pot-committed to the metaverse. Tech giants are looking for savings elsewhere.
 

With major studios arguably over-indexed on SVOD, the stickier experiences of interactive entertainment and the metaverse will eventually form a critical pillar of studio D2C strategy, boosting subscription services and tying in closely with consumer products and theme parks.

Disney’s appointment of a Chief Metaverse Officer is good first step, demonstrating a strategic interest in the space. But other major studios remain cautious and distracted, with limited capability beyond licensing to engage in the metaverse for the next 24 months and possibly longer.

Meta will need to provide a strong guiding hand creatively and technically to ensure its new partnership with NBCUniversal is a success, and to evangelise the metaverse and its revenue model across the Hollywood studio content space.

Advertisers are rushing to create immersive virtual experiences to promote their brands, particularly on social gaming platforms with large built-in audiences. The interest shows no sign of waning.

We are in the very early days of metaverse marketing: formats are bespoke, costs are high and the data provided by platforms is rudimentary. Not all product categories are suited to a virtual incarnation.

The long-term promise is tantalising: advertising that is better than its real-world counterpart, that forges new relationships with customers, and that forms part of the product offering rather than just promotional activity.

For the media and entertainment industry the dawn of the metaverse, and the word soup of acronyms that accompanies it, is the latest high-profile technology wave that threatens to simultaneously upend established distribution models and reinvent both the experience and relationship with the audience.

Many companies will feel they have been here before. The last 25 years have seen technologies move from linear to on-demand and physical to digital; and devices from fixed, heavy boxes, to always connected and mobile-first. Some companies never recovered from these changes.

The next 24 months is a particularly useful window to invest at small scale and with limited downside risk. With audiences small but influential, there is opportunity to start early, develop robust test cases and establish new community-building and storytelling formats.

For the media and entertainment industry the dawn of the metaverse, and the word soup of acronyms that accompanies it, is the latest high-profile technology wave that threatens to simultaneously upend established distribution models and reinvent both the experience and the relationship with the audience.

Music is the media sector (outside gaming) that has moved fastest to experiment with metaverse applications, so far mainly on gaming platforms like Fortnite and Roblox, which provide a ready game-centric audience but offer little lasting innovation.

Music's metaverse potential beyond gaming is huge, led by artists who want a more dynamic online presence, though we anticipate a long trajectory towards mainstream applications as questions remain around formats, design, platforms, and monetisation.

The pandemic years boosted many businesses selling services on subscription in the UK: work-from-home gave people more time and money to widen the services they enjoyed in the home, such as gaming, entertainment and music, also boosting engagement with trusted news

The cost-of-living crisis dented the number of subscribers to OTT SVOD and news services in Q2 2022. Broadband and mobile are must-have; bundles of services (e.g. Sky’s pay-TV and broadband or mobile) are more resilient; yearly and multi-year contracts prevent churn relative to monthly contracts; and services that cater to passions (e.g. football) are always need-to-have

Subscription (or supporter) media and news services reaped the demand for trusted news through the pandemic, but now face a tough challenge to their toplines from the economic downturn—and also to transition to a sustainable business model for media audiences, while advertisers are also feeling the heat

YouTube’s tepid quarter signals a two-track online ad economy with advertisers protecting search spend as an essential cost of sales while cutting online display.

YouTube faces a challenge to strengthen its brand and direct response ad products while sacrificing some income to Shorts, its answer to competition from TikTok, which we estimate added three times as much ad revenue as YouTube in H1.

Beyond the short term, brands need to generate new demand, and that cannot be accomplished at the bottom of the funnel.

The Guardian has posted a stellar set of results: its highest annual revenues since the 2008 financial crash, and a £22.7 million upswing in operating cashflows, putting it into positive territory for the first time in decades

Looking ahead to 2022/23, the Guardian (alongside every other news publisher) faces the twin headwinds of the cost-of-living crisis and news fatigue

There are levers for the Guardian to pull to maintain growth, increase monetisation, and minimise churn

Apple's News and News+ service to iOS users in the UK, US, Canada and Australia has attracted many ad-funded and paywalled news publishers since its launch in 2015

Publishers’ 'opt-in' to its walled garden environment to reach underserved demographics on their own sites and raise brand awareness, and more recently, take advantage of the reduced commission on subscriptions sold through the App Store, with Apple taking 15% instead of 30%

For Apple, the priority is to improve the user experience, ultimately driving sales of iOS devices, although its engagement with news is only a minor source of revenue compared to games. We regard Apple News as being mainly a device to buttress its reputation in those selected markets where it faces political and regulatory pressures, explaining its limited geographic roll-out

Some prominent news media—notably the Financial Times, Guardian and New York Times—generate most of their consumer revenue online, shining a light on the industry’s long-term sustainability

Many newsbrands are also moving towards two-thirds reader funding, one-third advertising, emphasising that their business, not just their operating purpose, is journalism; where relevant, the legacy of the advertising boom period (1980s to mid 2000s) is finally shaking off

Perhaps most importantly, an extraordinary decade of transformation has instilled executive and cultural confidence at the top end of the market. Realising the same outcome for popular, local and magazine media will require even more radical transformation—but positive  signals are emerging