Streaming media and gaming have been critical survival tools for many consumers in lockdown, but European media and internet companies eagerly anticipate a post-COVID rebound led by sporting events and concerts.
Remember 2020? That’s the year COVID-19 reset the European economy. Or so we might be saying a few years from now, with the benefit of post-pandemic hindsight.
Some pockets of the region’s media and internet companies, such as video-gaming and streaming media, benefited from the solitary life of lockdowns. Others patiently await 2021, when vaccines will release us from social distancing and allow a cautious return to live exhibitions, trade shows and sporting events.
To state the obvious, global economic growth should rebound in 2021. After an estimated 3.6% contraction in global GDP this year, the world economy could grow 6.3% in 2021. In Europe, Jacob Nell, head of our European economics team, forecasts a 5% increase in GDP for the euro area and 5.3% for the UK. This should favor economically sensitive, cyclical stocks, such as broadcasters and advertising agencies, particularly those focused on outdoor campaigns.
For investors, here are five areas to watch in European media, advertising and Internet in 2021:
1. Olympics and the Euro 2020 Tournament. Assuming the delayed 2020 UEFA European Football Championship and the Tokyo Olympics keep their rescheduled dates (late July and June, respectively), these outsized events could help the ad market rebound in 2021. This pent-up stimulus effect keeps rolling into 2022, with the Winter Olympics in Beijing and the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Such events tend to focus large companies’ brand-advertising efforts and, based on a resurgence in planned marketing among large packaged-consumer-goods companies, they could be strong drivers in 2021.
2. A Boost for Activity-Based Businesses. The promise of widespread COVID-19 vaccines would unleash restless consumers and boost activity-based stocks. Some beneficiaries include:
- Events companies, most of which have been unable to hold physical gatherings since March. Even with more schedule disruptions, a substantial volume of trade shows and events should return in 2021, followed by a strong 2022, as schedules and prebookings normalize.
- Outdoor advertising inventory levels are expected to rally, amid growing foot traffic in commuter areas, shopping malls and airports.
- Digital rail and coach ticketing apps would benefit from a rebound in post-pandemic travel.
3. Lockdown beneficiaries may struggle. On the flipside, “lockdown beneficiaries,” such as video game publishers, could face headwinds. A pick-up in outdoor activities could very well mean fewer players, or less time spent, on video games.
However, video-game consumption could track e-commerce and stay “sticky” after the pandemic—particularly considering the growing proportion of online games and interest from gamers who renewed or added to their hardware during 2020.
In addition, this year’s new gaming consoles could provide a tailwind for consumption and engagement; we expect heavy marketing for the new hardware and content, as well as a refresh of current-generation content for the new consoles.
4. An acceleration of digital advertising and e-commerce. This year, digital advertising has noticeably outperformed traditional advertising. Faced with tough pandemic conditions, advertisers shifted their spending to digital, lured by the prospect of high short-term return on investment, effectiveness and savings.
This accelerated shift to digital likely will remain a theme in 2021—with both positive and negative dynamics. On the positive side, the market’s penchant for growth companies should benefit stocks levered to digital. Conversely, even if 2021 proves unusually strong for broadcast and print companies and traditional ad agencies, their underlying structural challenges remain.
5. A mixed bag for online food. Finally, in the Internet space, we take a more cautious view of customer retention and adoption for online meal-kit companies, which could experience a material slowdown.
However, restaurant food delivery apps have been clear beneficiaries of the lockdowns. They have reported increased order frequency and significant growth on both sides of their business model: more restaurants who use them to deliver food to more new customers. We believe that the model’s inherent stickiness will mean sustained growth, even post-COVID, and we expect restaurants to remain semireliant on online delivery platforms in the medium term.