ITV says worst of Covid pandemic is over as ad revenues rebound

ITV said it has put the worst of the coronavirus pandemic behind it, after the Euro 2020 football tournament and the easing of lockdown restrictions fuelled the largest June advertising revenues in its 66-year history.

The broadcaster said advertising revenue in June rose by 115% compared with the same month a year earlier as overall group revenues increased by a quarter for the first six months of 2021 to £1.8bn.

Broadcast revenues were hit hard at the start of the pandemic as large companies reined in their spending. However, the prospect of businesses reopening from lockdown has meant advertisers are jostling for position amid a rapid economic recovery.

England’s run to the final of the delayed Euro 2020 tournament also helped the firm. ITV broadcast England’s semi-final victory over Denmark in Euro 2020 to a peak of 27.6 million people this month. The defeat in the final by Italy was watched by 31 million, making it one of the most watched events in UK television history. Although the majority of viewers were on the BBC, ITV still reported 6 million viewers tuning in for its coverage, plus a further 4.2m online streaming requests.

Carolyn McCall, ITV’s chief executive, said June was “a fantastic month” and added it had been the broadcaster’s best ever tournament. The Love Island reality TV programme also performed well up against both the football and Wimbledon tennis, she added.

However, she warned of significant uncertainty ahead, with a continuing high prevalence of the Delta variant of the coronavirus in the UK despite a fall in case numbers in the past week. The broadcaster had managed to cope with the rising number of people asked to self-isolate by their NHS Covid-19 app, she said.

McCall said the results for the first half of the year “demonstrate that ITV is emerging from the worst effects of the pandemic”.

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ITV said its financial performance in the second half of 2021 might turn out to be less flattering because of comparisons with the summer of 2020 when England eased pandemic restrictions and revenues were higher. ITV expects advertising in July to be up by 68% year on year but August will be up only by 17%, to 20%. There is “uncertainty” over September, it said.

Profits before tax rose to £133m for the first half of 2021, up from only £15m in the 2020 period, although still short of the £222m profits it made in 2019.

Against an improving revenue backdrop, ITV pledged to reinstate full-year dividend payments, saying it would pay 3.3p a share for the full year of 2021 “assuming the economy continues to recover”. It had cancelled its dividend at the start of the pandemic.

McCall confirmed that ITV had been asked by the government to respond to a consultation on the future of Channel 4, after ministers announced plans to privatise the rival broadcaster last month. She declined to comment on whether ITV would be interested in acquiring it.

She said ITV was not interested in buying a stake in BT Sport, after the telecoms company effectively said it would put the sports channels up for sale. However, ITV would be willing to cooperate with BT Sport, she added.


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