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U.K. TV giant ITV reported a slight advertising revenue decline for 2022 on Thursday as a strong fourth quarter followed declines earlier in the year, but it said ad revenue for the current first quarter was trending down 11 percent economic clouds.
“The outlook for advertising is challenging, as we expected, given the current macroeconomic environment,” the company said.
ITV, led by CEO Carolyn McCall, saw total external revenue rise 8 percent over 2021 to 3.7 billion pounds ($4.4 billion). Adjusted profit before tax for the year fell 13 percent to 672 million pounds ($805 million).
Total revenue at its production arm ITV Studios grew by 19 percent to 2.1 billion pounds ($2.5 billion). “With ITV’s strong position in a growing market, we expect ITV Studios to deliver at least 5 percent average revenue growth per annum to 2026 and grow ahead of the market,” the company said Thursday. It also reiterated its target of an ITV Studios adjusted earnings before interest, tax and amortization (EBITA) profit margin of 13-15 percent “from 2023 onwards,” but warned: “Given the current inflation in the production market and general cost inflation, we expect the margin to be at the lower end of the range in the shorter term.” And it added: “We continue to drive efficiencies through the digital innovation program.”
At the group’s media and entertainment arm, revenue climbed, with advertising revenue down by 1 percent from a company record set in 2021. “As ever, the fourth quarter was the strongest quarter in absolute terms, and was flat year‑on‑year, with both the lead-up to Christmas and the FIFA World Cup benefiting advertising revenue,” the company said. “The full year was down 1 percent, as previously guided, and was the second‑highest outturn in ITV’s history.”
In November, the firm had reported a 14 percent drop in third-quarter advertising revenue amid difficult year-ago comparisons and continued economic “uncertainty.” That left its ad revenue down 2 percent for the first nine months of 2022, leading the company to predict, thanks to a strong final quarter of the year helped by the soccer World Cup, an ad decline of 1 to 1.5 percent for the full year.
ITV said its total advertising revenue, which includes TV and digital advertising, as well as sponsorships, is forecast to be down around 11 percent in the current first quarter, with January down 9 percent, February down 9 percent and March down around 16 percent compared to the same periods in 2022. “The first quarter is expected to be down around 1 percent compared to 2019” before the COVID pandemic, the firm said. “Early indications are that total advertising revenue will be down between 10 and 15 percent in April.”
On an earnings conference call, McCall highlighted that digital advertising remained “strong” in the current quarter and was trending up 25 percent. She also said that advertisers have been more cautious with spending as companies are looking to protect their financials amid a challenging market, but sentiment has been improving. She mentioned such sectors as travel and car as examples of improving sentiment and trends.
“We have been very clear that (ITV) Studios is not for sale,” McCall once again reiterated when asked about potential deals amid recurring chatter that the company’s production arm could be an interesting target for players looking to expand. “We believe in vertical integration,” she added. “We also have said we won’t do anything short-term,” but focus on the long-term strategy and growth of ITV Studios.
McCall has been betting on a “digital first” content strategy. As part of that, ITV late last year launched ITVX, the U.K.’s first AVOD/SVOD platform. Viewers are able to watch thousands of hours of content for free in an advertising-funded tier or choose a subscription service that provides all that content ad-free. This streaming push is part of a target to double digital revenues to 750 million pounds ($1 billion) by 2026.
BritBox’s International subscribers hit 3 million at the end of 2022.
On Thursday, referring to 2022, McCall said, “It was a year of significant strategic progress and ITV delivered a robust set of financial results. The successful execution and delivery of ITVX in the fourth quarter was a major digital milestone. The platform has received a very positive reception from viewers and advertisers alike, with its newly expanded range of original content and a superior user experience engaging more viewers, and lighter viewers, and encouraging them to spend more time with ITV. The user experience and personalization elements will continue to improve throughout 2023.”
She added: “We enter 2023 with strong momentum and are on track to deliver all our 2026 key performance indicator targets despite a continuing uncertain macro environment. ITV’s balance sheet is robust, enabling us to continue to invest to support our strategy and deliver returns to shareholders.”
During the call, McCall also reiterated Jeremy Clarkson’s role with ITV. Clarkson had to apologize for a column in The Sun in which he wrote that he was dreaming of a day when Meghan Markle had to parade naked in public while people threw excrement at her. “ITV is contractually committed to a further (season) of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, which is now being recorded,” she read from a previous company statement. “There are no further commissioning commitments beyond that currently as is typical for such shows, where we make commissioning decisions on a (season-by-season) basis. Therefore, for the avoidance of doubt, neither Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? nor Jeremy Clarkson have been canceled.”
Asked by a reporter if she was worried about the Clarkson situation’s impact on the ITV brand, McCall said “no,” arguing that the firm has “handled it quite well.” She added that she herself has said that “there is no place for those comments on ITV, and they weren’t on ITV.” She concluded: “So, no, I don’t think there is a washover” affecting the brand.
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