European advertising markets start to revive

12 November 2009

BERLIN: Some of Europe's biggest media companies, including Bertelsmann and RTL, have reported that trading conditions in a number of the region's advertising markets have started to improve, but most remained hesitant when it came to calling the end of the downturn.

Bertelsmann, the media conglomerate active in sectors varying from TV to publishing, recorded a 4.5% decline in revenues in the last quarter, to €3.6 billion ($5.41bn; £3.26bn), while operating income grew by 14%, to €284m.

For the first nine months of 2009, the company posted a loss before tax of €73m, down from a profit of €504m in the corresponding period in 2008, largely due to writedowns, valued at €539m, in the first half.

Hartmut Ostrowski, its ceo, said "our third-quarter business performance was gratifying, particularly in the context of the economic crisis, to which Bertelsmann is responding resolutely. We're on the right path."

RTL, which has TV and radio properties in eleven nations in the region, registered an 8.3% drop in like-for like sales for the year to September.

In a statement, the owner of Five and Antena 3 said one observable continuing trend was that of "TV advertising markets across Europe decreasing significantly year-on-year."

More positively, it added that "since September 2009 advertising bookings have been better in almost all of RTL Group's markets, compared to the first eight months of the year."

Despite this renewed sense of optimism, ceo Gerhard Zeiler cautioned he "would be careful not to be saying too early that the crisis has ended."

Axel Springer, the publishing giant, saw its revenues diminish by 5.4% over the first three quarters, to €1.89bn, partly as a result of unfavourable exchange rates.

Within this, advertiser spending contracted by 11.4%, which was "much less severe than the decline affecting the overall market, thanks to the strong market position of Bild and the company's low dependency on classified ad revenues," it said.

For the year as whole, Axel Springer predicted the impact of "the tough advertising environment and the effects of recessionary developments" would continue to play a role.

However, Mathias Doepfner, its chief executive, also suggested that "we believe that we can improve our results in 2010 and that we have passed the low point."

TF1, France's largest commercial TV group, witnessed adspend levels at its flagship channel slide by 6%, to €280m, in the third quarter.

However, the rate of the slowdown moderated from a fall of 23% in the first half, aided by a "recovery in advertising spending in some sectors, especially consumer goods."

Mediaset, Italy's biggest private broadcaster, posted a net profit of €184.2m from January to September on an annual basis, although advertising returns were down by 10.8% in this period.

Figures from Nielsen Media Research show that total ad revenues in the country fell by 16%, to €5.99bn, in this timeframe.

Television was off by some 13.2%, to €3.07bn, with print down 23.6% to €1.69bn, while online display rose 5.2%, to €421.5m.

Last week, ProSiebenSat1, one of Germany's biggest broadcasters, reported a dip of just 2% in ad sales for the nine months to September, while ITV, the UK's biggest commercial broadcaster, forecast that its totals in this area would rise 4% in December.

Nick Bertolotti, senior media analyst at Credit Suisse, said "things are looking up and there is organic growth – or at least considerably less negative movement.”

Data sourced from Financial Times, Reuters, Wall Street Journal; additional content by Warc staff