The drop in demand, already seen in a lower-than-expected 2% ad revenue growth forecast for the first quarter, took the shine off resilient 2019 results for the company that had a recent hit with reality show “The Masked Singer”.
“We have seen deferments of travel advertising in March and April, but at this stage it’s really difficult to assess the further implications of the coronavirus,” Chief Executive Carolyn McCall told reporters. “We are obviously watching this closely.”
She said the softening was limited to the travel sector – with the spend deferred rather than cancelled – and the James Bond film “No Time to Die”, which has been postponed by seven months until November.
The travel industry has been among the hardest hit as a new coronavirus that started in China has spread around the world, with airlines and hotels seeing bookings plunge.
Increased spending by the government on a public health campaign would offset some of the loss, McCall said.
“The Bond deferment has come at the time when the government spending will balance that off,” she said.
Chief Financial Officer Chris Kennedy said ITV’s ad revenue was around 130 million pounds ($168 million) a month at this time of the year, so the deferrals caused relatively large swings.
McCall said the broadcaster had contingency plans for the cancellation of sporting fixtures such as Six Nations rugby matches, but it was too early to discuss events such as soccer’s Euro 2020 tournament, a big driver of ad revenue at the end of the second quarter.
Shares in ITV fell 9% to a near seven-month low of 105 pence in early deals, as analysts at Citi said the ad outlook had been dampened by coronavirus.
ITV reported full-year adjusted earnings of 729 million pounds ($939 million), down 10% on a year earlier but beating analysts’ consensus forecast, reflecting a decline in ad revenue and investments in the business.
The company has been focusing on growing its studio production business and video-on-demand services to reduce its reliance on often volatile advertising demand.
Underlying ITV Studios revenue grew 9% to 1.82 billion pounds, exceeding for the first time ad revenue, which came in at 1.77 billion pounds, it said.
Direct-to-consumer revenue was up 4%, driven by subscribers to its ad free ITV Hub+ subscription video-on-demand service.
McCall said BritBox, a streaming service launched in November with Britain’s other public service broadcasters, was “performing exactly to plan”.
“We are happy with the conversions, actually at the end of the one month free trial the majority of people are converting to fully-paid customers,” she said, adding it was too soon to give user numbers as distribution and content was still being added.
BritBox announced its first commission, a return of 1980’s satirical show “Spitting Image”, on Wednesday.
ITV said it would pay a dividend for 2020 of 8 pence a share, the same payout it announced for 2019.