In 2009, the UK consultant Jim Bilton started publishing his annual mediafutures survey. It benchmarked the performance, promise and pitfalls of the country’s publishers. Eleven years later, it still does. A growing audience of CEOs, publishers, research directors, and professional advisers depend on mediafutures for practical insights into the state of the media market. Colin Morrison reviews mediafutures in the Flashes & Flames newsletter.

This year, Bilton’s Wessenden Marketing company has been joined by Flashes & Flames, Folio, and InPublishing to expand the study to the US and other parts of the world. A total of 331 senior executives from the UK, Europe, Asia Pacific and the US have provided detailed information about their companies, competitors and the way ahead.

The reports provide a treasure trove of analysis and predictions, but here are some highlights to whet your appetite:

  • In Europe, 21% of companies have increased revenue in 2020. Last year’s predicted 61% rise was, predictably, blown apart by the pandemic. But (even before recent news of the vaccines) no fewer than 54% of companies are predicting growth in 2021. It’s somewhat similar in the US where only 24% have grown in 2020 and 50% expect to grow in 2021. The 2020 dip in revenue seems to have been worse in Europe than in the US, both in terms of the number of companies in decline and the average rate of revenue decrease.
  • No fewer than 70% of European media companies are profitable now, with 81% expecting to be so in 2021. Average profit margins are expected to increase from 8% to 10%.
  • US companies spend a larger proportion of their revenue on marketing than their European counterparts: 7.2% v 5.8%.
  • European companies are playing catchup when it comes to digitalisation. US companies derive 37% of revenue from digital (Europe: 28%) but the gap is predicted to close substantially in 2021.
  • European companies are less dependent on advertising and sponsorship: 60% v 79% for the US. But for companies on both sides of the Atlantic, print is still the single largest revenue stream.
  • US companies are 18% more confident than a year ago, compared with 12% for Europe. But, perhaps, one indication of overall confidence is that 43% of European companies expect to engage in M&A during the next two years.
  • It is interesting that, alone in the US, email newsletters are the publishing activity most likely to invested in during the next 12 months.

The reports give a strong sense of rising optimism in spite of the pandemic. Many companies exhibit a general belief that they are now in better shape than, say, two years ago to maximise the opportunities of digital media. But the continuing dependence on print may carry a sobering message to the contrary.

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