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Zenith CEO Steve King: Mobile Will Be the 4th-Largest Ad Medium by 2016

Agency execs predict big growth

At the UBS Media and Communications conference in midtown Manhattan, high-level executives from three major media agencies—GroupM's futures director Adam Smith, Zenith Optimedia's global CEO Steve King and Magna Global's evp and director of global forecasting Vincent Letang—held forth on the future of the business.

"Mobile will the fourth-largest ad [medium] by 2016," said King, gesturing to an elaborate pie chart that showed mobile advertising surpassing print, outdoor, radio and cinema, leaving it behind only desktop, Internet and TV. King also echoed remarks released to the press earlier, saying that mobile "will be the first technology in 20 years to expand media consumption rather than cannibalizing from other media types." King also said midterm elections in the U.S. and the winter Olympics would fuel growth, a point of discussion with which his colleagues did not all agree.

Smith in particular said that he believes the Olympics to be a nonstarter. "We're not particularly enthusiastic about the winter Olympics commanding money from elsewhere than existing budgets," he told the audience of investors. In fact, Smith was overall more bearish than his colleagues on the state of the market, pointing to "sequential downgrades to the Gulf, some pullback in China," where, he observed, ad growth stopped outperforming GDP in 2008.

He still predicted TV growth worldwide remaining stable through the period and into the future; his main point of frustration, as it is with many in the business, was the Eurozone, which he blamed on three P's: "We've got too much print, we've got too many pensioners, and we've got too much public spending," Smith said. He agreed, though, that China remained the center of growth for the industry, especially with the expansion of digital. Smith pushed back hard on notions of a programmatic revolution. "Programmatic is a machine talking to a machine, which is not a [audience buying]," he said.

Letang struck a pose somewhere between the two men, suggesting the digital would grow to fully $9 billion by 2018 and that it was unlikely to take away market share from television. "With the effect of Citizens United [vs. the FEC], for these midterm elections, we expect [overall spending] to be about one-third better than it was in 2010," Letang said. "We're talking about $3 billion." Letang predicted some $3.5 for the Olympics, as well.

In a debate over whether digital could ever provide a challenge to TV, Smith bluntly said that the industry would need to get its act together if it wanted to do so. "The question is ... whether or not we're going to have a single consolidated standard for audience measurement," he said, asking whether YouTube and similar services were even interested in having a third-party measurement standard. King, too, said he believed digital would not take much share from television. "Television is going to continue to be very strong; digital is going to be an accelerator and an amplifier to that," he said.

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