It's not often you get some reliable data on Asia's digital advertising industry, so the latest set of data from IAB Singapore is to be applauded.

The data is from a survey by the IAB and PricewaterhouseCoopers – several of the IABs around the world have studies set up with PwC, and generally they're held to be the most reliable measures of digital advertising spend (they tend to avoid ratecard data). IAB Singapore was set up last year, and has only recently begun issuing data, making Singapore the first digital market to have figures of this quality.

The latest data covers the H1 2010 (the first results, released in May, only went up to H1 2009). We covered the headline stats in Warc News – H1 2010 digital spend topped SG$40 million, up 34% on H1 2009. And 2009 digital outlay made up around six per cent of total spend, up from less than four per cent in 2008.

Total Interactive Revenues

Readers unfamiliar with Singapore's ad market might assume that a market with such digitally savvy consumers (broadband penetration runs at nearly 150%) would also lead the way in terms of digital advertising. Not so. For years, a combination of cautious clients, strong traditional media and less-than-proactive digital media owners has meant that digital spend has remained tiny within the city-state. The fact that it's risen to six per cent of total spend has been hailed as a success.

Looking behind the numbers raises some interesting questions too. For a start, the recent surge in spend is due wholly to search, as this chart shows.

IAB revenue breakdown

Search has grown from SG$2.8 million in H1 2008, roughly 12 per cent of total digital spend, to SG$15.9 million in H1 2010, or 39 per cent of the total. That is staggering growth by any standards.

Display and classified, however, have barely moved in those two years: display spend rose from SG$17.9 million in H1 2008 to SG$19.9 million in H1 2010.

At the moment, then, it’s good news for Google, bad news for Yahoo and Singapore’s other display-focused online media owners. But looking ahead this should be good for the whole industry. Although the UK and US are very different markets to Singapore, it’s true to say that the surge in search spend in the middle of the last decade helped lift; SMEs that began using search progressed to other online formats, drawn by low barriers to entry and easy response measures.

Growing use of performance-based search spend may already be having an impact on the market as a whole. It’s also interesting to note a shift in the way people are buying online ads, as this chart shows:

IAB pricing

Singapore’s online ad market has had several false starts. It may finally be on the move.