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.
 

Revenues were stable year-on-year in Q3, with UK growth offsetting Continental decline. All three markets posted positive customer net adds across the quarter.

Underlying profitability is improving, and although World Cup-related changes to the football schedule depressed net income in Q3, they will lift it in Q4.

A possible sale of Sky Deutschland would make sense if it helps the buyer reach superior scale within Germany.

Amidst a wider economic slowdown in the UK due to the cost-of-living crisis and the rising trend of borrowing costs, the Q4 retail spending peak (27.9% of total retail in 2019) will continue to be the dominant theme for retailers and advertisers in Q4 2022

Pandemic work and life patterns more fully reversed in 2022, with offline retailing recovering. Online share is ticking down to a new baseline of c.25% of retail (excluding fuel), thanks to food stores, the main pandemic gainers—now 10% of the vertical and contributing a huge 15% of online retail spend

Online promotions (Black Friday, Cyber Monday) have gained traction over the years, drawing retail spend into November from December, and inevitably motivating a pull-forward of advertising expenditure, with online advertising increasingly focused on the bottom of the consumer purchasing journey, favouring intent over brand

60% of Chinese online ad spend is directly driven by ecommerce, compared to 40% in the West. The gap will close as content and ads move closer to transactions.

General search engines are not central to the customer journey in China: Baidu fell below 10% of online advertising last year, compared to Google’s c.55% share in the UK.

The Chinese model now has a vector to the rest of the world in the form of TikTok, whose parent company ByteDance added more retail GMV in China than Alibaba last year. TikTok wants to grow video shopping in the West, targeting a huge $470 billion in transactions by 2027.

The new Truss/Hunt tandem is a needed response to the crisis affecting the credibility of the UK Government in global financial markets over its decisions on economic policy, although it will take time to re-establish credibility and stability

The cost-of-living crisis is inexorably widening from goods and services to the interest rates paid by Government, businesses, and households, exacerbating the recessionary trend of the economy

Implications for UK TMT range from the recession in advertising expenditure in2023, to the delay of the Media Bill (including the privatisation of Channel 4), alongside complications for mergers and acquisitions of UK companies

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.

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

Meta suffered its first year-on-year revenue decline in Q2, as long-standing challenges crystalise and an economic slowdown in the US dents display ad spend. 

In response, Meta is retooling its products to neutralise threats from post-social competitors like TikTok, and trying to minimise the impact of data restrictions. 

The long-term pivot to the metaverse is Zuckerberg's next big bet, but funding it depends on core business strength. 

Amidst the US macro downturn denting online sales, Amazon reported revenue growth of 7.2%, driven by AWS and advertising, but broad-based in nature

Inelastic demand for Prime has created opportunities to increase efficiency and monetisation, with cutbacks to fulfillment costs and increased subscription fees boosting Amazon's margins

Amazon's bottom-funnel search advertising growth has proved resilient, up 18% YoY, as growth eludes higher-funnel competitors—offering a strong indication that Amazon will largely buck the trend of advertising decline

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.