Mobile Measurement Flaws Mean TV Leaves Money on the Table, WPP Chief Says

Remains Bullish About China, Brazil and Luxury Advertising

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Martin Sorrell
Martin Sorrell

WPP CEO Sorrell said Thursday morning that TV measurement on new platforms is lagging consumer habits, meaning media companies aren't getting credit for mobile and other views.

"This is an issue that Nielsen is trying to wrestle with in the U.S.," Mr. Sorrell said, speaking during an analysts' call to discuss WPP's first-quarter results. "There is considerable discontent among traditional media owners about the scope of measurement … and pricing is affected by the inability of traditional measurement to capture all of the data. There are deficiences in the system, hence our investment in ComScore, which we want to make the global standard, and Rentrak, which looks at alternative ways. ... It's critical that media owners want to get the best possible ratings."

TV sellers say they are dismayed by the slow rollout of Nielsen's mobile-ratings system even as viewers move to mobile platforms quickly and traditional TV ratings decline. They are heading into an upfront selling period that many sales executives worry won't improve much on last summer's soft performance.

WPP results
Revenue at WPP, the world's largest advertising and marketing group, grew 8.3% in the first quarter of the year from the quarter a year earlier to $4 billion, with like-for-like revenue -- excluding acquisitions and sales -- and controlling for currency effects up 5.2%.

WPP owns agencies including Ogilvy & Mather, J. Walter Thompson, Grey and Mindshare. WPP rivals Omnicom Groupe and Publicis Groupe this week reported like-for-like first-quarter revenue growth of 5.1% and 0.9% respectively.

North America, which accounts for 37.3% of WPP revenue, saw organic revenue on a constant-currency basis grow 4.4% in the first quarter of the year to $1.55 billion. WPP's home territory, the U.K., saw revenue increase 8.1% to $625 million.

Like-for-like, constant-currency revenue grew 6.8% across the company's Asia Pacific, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East, and Central and Eastern Europe regions, which together make up 27.5% of group revenue. Latin America, however, slipped 0.3% due to pressure in Brazil and Chile, WPP said, while Asia Pacific grew 10.4%, including more than 20% growth in India.

"We've seen very strong growth in India and China," WPP CEO Martin Sorrell said on a call with analysts Thursday morning. "It's nonsense about the luxury market being in a state of flux. I remain unashamedly bullish about China. Brazil had some problems in Q1, but I am bullish on Brazil too."

On a like-for-like basis and controlling for currency effects, revenue from advertising and media investment management grew 10.7% to $1.85 billion, data investment management remained flat at $837 million, public relations edged up 0.9% to $336 million, and branding and identity, healthcare and specialist communications rose 2.4% to $1.15 million.

Direct, digital and interactive made up almost 37% of total revenue, WPP said, with digital revenue across the group up 5.1% like-for-like.

Entertainment and content
"Clients are still focused on opportunities in faster growing markets and following consumers into new media," Mr. Sorrell said. "The use of data is critically important for us, as is content -- there is more to be done in the context of Vice very soon." WPP acquired a minority stake in hipster media empire Vice Media in 2011.

Marketers in the media and entertainment fields accounted for more than 10% of WPP's revenue growth, the agency giant said, with automotive, retail and travel contributing between 5% and 10% of growth. Computers, drinks, electronics, financial services, government, oil, personal care and drugs, food and telecommunications all contributed less than 5% to revenue growth.

Net new business was $1 billion in the first quarter, compared to $1.28 billion in the first quarter last year.

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