Who was UK commercial radio’s biggest advertiser in 2010? British Gas? No, it was second. Autoglass? No, it came third. Volkswagen? No, it was fourth. Unilever? No, it came fifth.
Radio’s biggest advertiser in 2010 was the government (in the guise of the Orwellian-sounding Central Office of Information [COI]). Not only was the government the biggest advertiser on radio, but it was far and away the biggest advertiser by miles. The government’s £30m expenditure on radio in 2010 exceeded the sum total of British Gas, Autoglass, Volkswagen and Unilever.
After the coalition government was formed in May 2010, it immediately executed Conservative Party strategy to cut public expenditure on commercial advertising by 50%. Before the election, I had predicted that this Conservative policy would have a disastrous impact on commercial radio revenues [see my May 2010 blog]. It did.
Although the coalition had been in power for little more than seven months by year-end, COI expenditure on radio was quickly slashed from £50m in 2009 to £30m in 2010. Additional (non-COI) public expenditure cuts reduced radio’s revenues by a further £4m in 2010. This £24m total was a significant loss to commercial radio, and represented 9% of national revenues, or 5% of total revenues.
Did radio suffer greater cuts from the COI than other media? Seemingly not. Radio’s share of COI ad spend was 27% in 2010, slightly higher than the previous year. The reason the impact was so great for radio was the sector’s much greater dependency upon public money than competing media (television, the press, billboards).
In June 2010, the Radio Advertising Bureau had said bravely: “We are optimistic that radio’s strengths will be recognised as COI budgets come under ever greater scrutiny.” Evidently, radio strength’s were not.
By September 2010, the Radio Advertising Bureau said that it was “working with a wide range of advertisers to bridge the gap” left by public expenditure cuts. What was the outcome?
There were some impressive gains for radio from other clients in 2010:
* British Gas increased its expenditure on radio from £5m to £9m year-on-year (particularly impressive since it had only spent £2m on radio in 2007);
* Autoglass increased its expenditure on radio from £5m to £9m year-on-year (50% of its ad budget);
* Gocompare.com increased its expenditure on radio from £1m to £5m year-on-year;
* More Than increased its expenditure on radio from £2m to £4m year-on-year;
* Mars increased its expenditure on radio from £1m to £4m year-on-year;
* Asda multiplied its expenditure on radio eight-fold to £3m year-on-year.
The problem was that even these gains combined did not match the loss from government spending cuts. The huge challenge the commercial radio industry still faces is its history of increasing dependency upon one very large advertiser.
Additionally, there were other clients that either spent less in 2010, or might in 2011:
* Blockbuster Entertainment was radio’s sixth biggest advertiser in 2010 (spending 50% of its ad budget on radio), but filed for bankruptcy in the US in September 2010;
* Sky TV reduced its expenditure on radio to £4m in 2010 from £7m the previous year;
* BT reduced its expenditure on radio to £4m in 2010 from £7m the previous year;
* Proctor & Gamble reduced its expenditure on radio to £4m in 2010 from £6m the previous year;
* Specsavers had been the second biggest spender on radio in 2009, spending £8m, but dropped out of the top 20 in 2010.
However, these single-digit losses were dwarfed by the £24m reduction in public expenditure on radio advertising in 2010.
In terms of product sectors, motor vehicles rebounded from the recession and led the field in 2010 with £90m expenditure on radio. The finance sector similarly rebounded to £52m in 2010. On the other hand, the property sector did not rebound and its spending on radio of £8m in 2010 was down 42% compared to two years earlier. Likewise, online retailers spent only £2m on radio in 2010, down 55% from two years earlier.
Public expenditure on radio fell from the number one product sector in 2007, 2008 and 2009 to fourth place in 2010. Inevitably, given that the coalition was only elected mid-2010, the cuts to public expenditure are likely to have as much impact on radio in 2011 as they had in 2010. Neither is there any prospect of these cuts being restored under the present government.
Total radio sector revenues for 2010 are likely to be up slightly year-on-year [see my Oct 2010 blog]. This is not something to shout about, given that Q2 and Q3 in 2009 had produced commercial radio’s lowest recorded revenues this millennium. However, it is an achievement in an environment where expenditure by commercial radio’s biggest advertising client fell off a cliff (as the graphs above demonstrate visually).
Unfortunately, in the longer term, unless commercial radio succeeds in improving its performance with listeners, both in absolute terms and in comparison with BBC radio, it cannot expect its revenues to return to levels recorded a decade ago. By 2009, UK commercial radio revenues had fallen by 32% since 2000 in real terms. Radio’s revenues from national advertisers had fallen by 47% during that period. That will be an almost impossible expanse of ground to regain.
[data source: Nielsen Media Research]