This Year Next Year: U.S. 2021 Mid-Year Forecast

Brian Wieser

22% growth in media ad revenue during 2021

As we approach the midpoint of 2021, advertising growth for the year is far exceeding previous expectations, leading to a revision of our forecasts for this year and beyond. Excluding political spending, we now expect a 22% growth in media ad revenue during 2021, a marked improvement from our prior forecast. 

Growth rates in subsequent years, which now extend through 2026, are also incrementally elevated versus our prior forecasts. In total, we estimate that total media company ad revenue will amount to $279 billion in 2021 and rise to $388 billion by 2026. 

At the time of our last update, published in March, it was evident that the ad market was relatively strong during the first quarter and that it would further benefit from high inflation across the economy, lifting our expectations for growth. But we didn’t fully appreciate just how much the economy and advertising market were heating up. It was only after we saw results for the quarter from the likes of Google, Facebook and Amazon (and Snap, Pinterest and others) that we could appreciate just how strong the market was, especially for digital media.  

Speaking of digital: We now expect digital advertising (excluding political advertising) to grow by 33% in 2021, building on last year’s 10% rate of expansion. At this pace of growth, digital will account for 57% of all advertising we track in our data set for the United States. We also expect that, by 2026, digital advertising will continue to drive—and outpace—the overall market, accounting for 69% of the industry. 

Television faces countervailing pressures that negatively affect its media owners on the margins; however, advertising is set to remain relatively stable following a year of recovery-driven growth. For 2021, we expect National TV—including Connected TV+ advertising and linear forms of the medium (the document has a sidebar that details how we are defining Connected TV+)—to grow by 8.7%, a full recovery from 2020’s 6.9% decline. Looking beyond 2021, we expect flat trends, with incremental shifts out of television by large traditional brands offset by incremental spending by newer ones. 

Beyond television and pure-play digital platforms, other media account for 20% of other activity in 2021. This figure will fall slightly through 2026 despite the growing importance of their digital extensions, such as podcasting, digital OOH and digital-only magazines and news publications. However, we emphasize that each of them can be highly effective for marketers who invest in engaging with consumers through these mediums.