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.
However, ITV still 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.
Carolyn McCall, ITV’s chief executive, said the results for the first half of the year “demonstrate that ITV is emerging from the worst effects of the pandemic”.
She said: “We are now a more flexible, more efficient and more digital business. We are optimistic about the future despite the ongoing pandemic risk on our advertising and ITV Studios revenues.”
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”.