Crisis for the Thai media and ad industry existed long before the virus emerged in Wuhan as spending on media in Thailand fell inexorably from 2013 to 2017. However, the uncertainty at the opening of 2021 across the whole economy has filtered into an already decimated advertising and media sector.

This week’s infection of a top Thai TV anchor shows the fear and confusion that this pandemic has sown. Media spends were down by over 18% in 2020 and are already down in the opening days of 2021. It is also clear that the virus is only part of the problem for the media landscape in the kingdom which saw spending topple by 39% from 2013 to 2020.

Pawat Ruangdejworachai the President of Bangkok based Media Intelligence is predicting a modest 10% gain for the ad industry and media spends in 2021 although the industry had already witnessed a steep decline from 2013 to 2017 with lacklustre growth from 2017 to 2019 before this crisis hit resulting in a 39% drop in spends in 2020 compared to 2013. Even with radical changes in the market and the decline in traditional media, the projected budget for 2021 will still see a 50% share for TV with a 15% jump in spending for online media.

Thailand’s battered media sector was in the news in recent days after a TV anchor with national broadcaster NBT tested positive for the Covid-19 virus prompting panic at the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration where popular spokesman, Dr Taweesin Visanuyothin, was forced to reveal that he may have been infected due to his work with the broadcaster. Later, sources indicated that he was at low risk of infection.

It comes as a report on projected media spends in 2021 by Bangkok based firm Media Intelligence reveals that the industry could see a potential 10% gain in spending on the proviso that the government manages to contain this latest severe outbreak of the virus.

Second virus wave could not have come at a worse time for the media and ad industry in 2021

The second wave of the Covid-19 virus which broke out in December 2020, could not have come at a worse time for the struggling media and advertising industry in Thailand coming just before the February to April ‘high season’.

A projected outlook for the sector was given in the last week by Pawat Ruangdejworachai, the President of Media Intelligence, a Bangkok based media planning and creative firm. Mr Pawat explained that the ad business was already off to a bad start.

In the first 14 days of January, expenditure was down by 10% on figures for 2020, a dismal year for the industry. Last year saw media advertising in Thailand come in at ฿73.7 billion.

Industry under siege from market forces, technology and an economy troubled by politics

Media concerns are also suffering in a fast-changing marketplace where new competitors, driven by technology, are arising on a continuous basis from both inside and outside Thailand’s borders with consequent massive industry-wide job losses.

The pandemic was yet another disaster for media and advertising business which had been left reeling from a  downturn in advertising spending that began in 2013. This, in itself, tells us something about the Thai economy and the consumer market in the kingdom.

2013 saw heavy street protests in Thailand followed by a coup in 2014 and slow economic recovery from that point in an economy which despite a growing and aspirational middle class, has hit record levels of household debt.

Massive 39% drop in advertising spends between 2013 and 2020 started well before the pandemic

Advertising spends on media in 2020 represented a decrease of a massive 39% from 2013 figures and were 18.3% down on the year before.

Media spends in Thailand in 2013 approached ฿120.6 billion and have never recovered, dropping inexorably from that year to 2017 by 28.3% levelling out at ฿86.4 billion. 

It is not exactly clear what the reason for this is but it is certainly related to the consumer market and also striking changes in media consumption habits among the under 34 year old demographic seen in Thailand and the rest of the world.

Old fashioned TV is slowly losing its grip as online media advances on a fragmented market

This means that TV, the dominant media for a generation, is losing its grip while old fashioned media such as newspapers and print have been decimated.

In the firm’s prediction for 2021, even if the economy improves and the government brings the virus outbreak under control, the biggest gain will be for advertising spends on internet related media which will see a 15% rise to ฿22.5 billion.

The problem with online advertising for Thai ad agency planners and executives in Bangkok is that it is increasingly controlled by internet giants outside the country and is very fragmented.

Today, media planning online has become more about technology than creative flair or the eye for an opportunity which was the genius of yesterday’s ad world.

Outdoor or ‘out of home’ advertising, a growth sector didn’t fare too well in 2020 with lockdowns

Another bright prospect in the media firmament is ‘out of home’ promotion which was obviously badly hit in 2020 but is expected to recover by as much as 13% this year.

At the same time, even though it is being kept alive by older audiences as well as advertising agencies and the creative industry who still support it, the TV sector will see a projected ad spend of ฿40.5 billion in 2021 or nearly 50% of the budget.

There is some talk about TV regaining ground during the pandemic with audiences reportedly seeking out more news but this is more likely to happen on the internet with more active adults who have control over the bulk of consumer expenditure in society. 

The effectiveness and ability to generate critical momentum still remains a plus factor for TV media in Thailand even with an ageing audience while firms make efforts to attract more female viewers at home.

Chinese social media channel Tik Tok has 12 million users in the kingdom and is growing in popularity

Mr Pawat explained that particular growth areas online for 2021 were entertainment channels. He singled out the Chinese social network Tik Tok which he revealed now has 12 million users in the kingdom.

He was optimistic of the prospects for 2022 to 2023 suggesting that a return to 2019 levels of expenditure may be seen at that point with an overall spend of ฿90 billion.

‘The vaccine roll-out and recovery of the Chinese market would be a boon for Thailand’s export and travel sectors,’ he explained.

Looking at a medium-term, not a short term recovery

It is clear that in this industry anyhow, business insiders see recovery from the pandemic as a medium-term proposition and not something that will be fully rectified in 2021.

Mr Pawat even warned that this year could be a flat one or even a reversal on 2020 if the government is forced into a full lockdown or the virus somehow spirals out of control as we have seen in western countries.

Things will take shape in the coming months

As it is, Media Intelligence is predicting 10% growth this year with a combined spend of ฿81.5 billion. 

That is still 32% off where it was in 2013. 

He predicted that a definite outlook for 2021 will take shape in the forthcoming months

‘Everyone learned from the situation during last March’s lockdown. If the outbreak is controlled, advertisers may return to spend more in February, with further plans during the summer,’ disclosed Mr Pawat.

He posited that an alternative outcome may be a 5% gain from the baseline figure of 2020 if the government struggles with the virus and recovery this year is slower than anticipated.

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