Did Commercial Broadcasters Really Lose Millions of Pounds on Monday?

As I type, I’ve yet to see any viewing figures for how many people watched the Queen’s funeral on British TV yesterday – they were going to be late being published due to “abnormally high levels of viewing for The State Funeral.” I think it’s safe to assume that it will be a very large number indeed, with saturation coverage across multiple channels for much of the day.

But UK broadcasters and much of the media beyond, couldn’t directly capitalise on this coverage because essentially nobody was carrying any advertising.

On Sunday, a piece in The Observer was headlined ‘Queen’s funeral may break TV records but ad blackout will cost media dearly.’

The article quotes a senior executive at a UK media agency:

“We are talking about the loss of millions and millions of pounds of advertising for media owners,” says a senior executive at a UK media agency. “It’s kind of like the mass media event that commercially never was.”

I’d just like to interrogate that a little. The second part of the quote feels accurate, but it’s the first part I’m more interested in.

Total UK advertising spending in 2021 was £29.7bn according AA/WARC. That means on average £81.4m is spend every single day. I’d note that advertising is not spent evenly across the year, or even across the week. However, assuming that no advertising was run across any media yesterday, that would seem to back up the quote above that “millions and millions” of pounds was lost by UK media companies.

But have these companies actually lost all that money for ever? It’s not really as straightforward as that. That would assume that every pound not spent on Monday won’t be spent at another time. And while some of that money is probably lost, I’d reckon that much of it will just be spent at a different time.

Advertisers tend to allocate spend in advance. They determine a budget, and then use agencies to spend that budget across media. Smaller advertisers might do all of this themselves without the need for an agency, but it’s still likely they budget an overall advertising spend for their business. An advertiser working with its agency might determine that they’re going to spend a sum on a campaign over a period of time with a given set of media outlets. The buying agency will create a plan that usually runs for a period of days or weeks, and buys spots, or allocates funds accordingly.

Yesterday, there were no spots available. But they’re available again today, and just because an advertiser couldn’t spend any money yesterday, it doesn’t mean that they’re not going to move spending the budget that they’d previously allocated to Monday to today – or next weekend, or whenever is next suitable for that advertising spend.

It’s true that some spending is very time sensitive – promotions have expiry dates; films have opening dates. But Monday was known about in advance and much spending could be shifted to Saturday, Sunday or today depending on the advertiser’s goals.

And it’s not just lack of availability that causes advertisers to move campaigns. Advertisers tend to not want to appear to be cashing in anyway. Even if commercial broadcasters like ITV and Sky had been offering ad slots yesterday, many advertisers would have moved their advertising accordingly.

It’s also worth noting that many advertiser get rates based on pre-agreed amounts of advertising spend in advance. ‘If you promise to spend this amount of money, we’ll give you a special rate.’ Another reason that the money “moves” rather than being “lost” on a day like yesterday.

It’s true that broadcasters don’t have infinite inventory, so if their advertising slots were all full, then finding space for advertising slots that would otherwise have gone out on Monday could be tough. But we’re not into the peak autumn period yet and finding space in a broadcaster’s schedule won’t be as impossible as trying to buy a Super Bowl ad slot the day before the game.

As I said above, there certainly will be some element of advertising that won’t have re-appeared. If an advertiser allocates £x to spend on ads every day based on the availability of their service, but as yesterday was a Bank Holiday their service wasn’t available, then that spending might indeed be lost.

But it’s too simplistic to assume that much of that spending was permanently lost. Certainly an advertiser might have loved to reach a massive audience in one hit, but they’d probably prefer that hit to be a World Cup Final centre break rather than a sombre moment in a funeral.

PS. I’ve no idea how many people globally watched the funeral yesterday. But I do know it wasn’t 4 billion as posited in the Washington Post amongst many other places. There are close to 8.0 billion people on the planet – the UN expecting the world’s population to reach that number in November. Do we really think that more than half of those people watched the funeral of a British monarch? (The 4.1 billion being bandied around comes from a press release from a company that flogs VPN access via affiliate links, and not some specialist TV viewing figure analyst. Please don’t report such nonsense.)