This was the year when the world’s top advertiser, Procter & Gamble, described the digital-media supply chain as "murky at best, fraudulent at worst". The world’s biggest video site, YouTube, suffered a brand-safety crisis. The world’s biggest social-media site, Facebook, was dogged by questions about measurement and Russian election interference. And the issue of media transparency was top of the marketer’s agenda.
No wonder advertisers felt they had limited choice when it came to investing in a medium they could trust. What’s more, it was tough for any media owner, other than Google and Facebook, to expand, because the duopoly continued to suck up most of the growth and, in Britain, confidence was lacking, in the aftermath of last year’s Brexit vote.
So, Global stood out as a medium that offered what marketers wanted in 2017. Britain’s biggest commercial-radio operator made good on its ambition to become a fully fledged media company, changing its name from Global Radio to Global Media and Entertainment in a symbolic but important move, in what turned out to be a record year.
The owner of Capital, Classic, Heart and LBC already offered broadcast reach in a brand-safe environment and increased its audience across broadcast, online and social to a new high of 31 million, including 25.2m on FM radio, thanks in part to the launch of Global Player, which boosted on-demand listening.
Global’s chief executive, Stephen Miron, and chief commercial officer, Mike Gordon, also widened the portfolio substantially, giving brands more chances to talk to hard-to-reach young audiences via live and online channels.
The group bought festivals, including Field Day and South West Four, to make it the UK’s second-biggest festival operator, selling one million tickets in 2017. Global also beefed up its fast-growing programmatic audio platform, DAX, by acquiring US rival Audio HQ – a first step stateside and a move that gives DAX an online audio audience of 160 million. More than 350 brands a month are buying ads on DAX, and the launch of its Listener Insight ID Tool is helping advertisers such as Audi to track the effectiveness of their digital audio campaigns.
Across the Global group, the number of advertisers rose 15% as new brands such as Smirnoff and Channel 4 signed up; client retention was 98%. Revenues jumped 11% and earnings also grew significantly to hit new heights, although Global, which has a private-equity-style debt structure, asked for the figures it supplied to Campaign to remain confidential.
Ashley Tabor, Global’s president and owner, also fulfilled a long-held dream when the Global Academy, a school that specialises in teaching media and entertainment skills to 14- to 18-year-olds, launched in Hayes, Middlesex. It received the royal stamp of approval, having been opened by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry in April.
It all goes to show how Global has made impressive strides since it began broadcasting nine years ago, creating a medium that works for advertisers that want to build brands.
There will always be tension around the role of ads on the world’s most popular subscription music-streaming service, because paying users are not served ads. However, advertising does matter to Spotify, because two-thirds of its global users opt for the ad-funded, free service.
The total UK user base has hit 17.5 million, up 47% year on year, although Spotify doesn’t break down the split between its free and paying subscribers.
The UK ad sales team is turning the dial under the leadership of Marco Bertozzi, vice-president of sales for Europe, who has shaken up the team and recruited a new UK boss, Rakesh Patel, from Auto Trader. UK ad revenues were undisclosed, but have risen 62%. Average spend is up 25%, and higher in video, thanks to brands such as Cadbury and ITV. Spotify also launched its own self-serve platform, Spotify Ad Studio, in beta in the US in the autumn ahead of its expected UK launch.
London Evening Standard
Appointing former chancellor George Osborne as editor and getting him to pitch to agencies certainly put the London Evening Standard on the media radar and may have pushed it higher on the media plan too.
Osborne has injected bite into the free evening paper, the circulation of which has stayed solid at 900,000 in a declining market, while events such as London Food Month showed an appetite to diversify in a tough post-Brexit world for print. Commercial chief Jon O’Donnell’s team was rewarded when parent company ESI Media won Media Brand of the Year at the 2017 Media Week Awards.
The Standard’s weakness remains online, where the user experience is clunky. There are also questions about its relationship with sister website The Independent, which took Saudi investment this year. But the Standard’s influence and affluent London audience give it a unique proposition in a squeezed market.
Although Snapchat owner Snap’s stock price and profitability is in question, it has been investing heavily in advertiser relationships, working with brands such as BMW, Netflix and Fanta. Its UK sales revenue has doubled in the past year and it has launched new ad formats, advertiser-friendly platforms and metrics. •
Recent winners: No winner (2016); Channel 4 (2015); Facebook (2014); Twitter (2013); ITV (2012)