As 2022 moves off the starting blocks, broadcasters are optimistic about the ongoing advertising recovery and the growing importance of audio to marketers in a world where many consumers look to free their eyeballs from screens and discover new content to fill their ears. In the first part of Inside Radio’s four-part Radio Outlook 2022 series, industry leaders unpack the business trends they see having the greatest impact on the audio universe in the year ahead.

With continued digital growth, an explosion in the sports betting and recruitment categories, live events slowly returning, and an influx of political dollars expected later in the year, broadcast executives see a strong year ahead. “I think that 2022 is bound to be a great year for radio,” says Ginny Morris, CEO at Hubbard Radio. “2021 got us much closer to 2019 billing levels and we hope to complete that journey in 2022.”

According to BIA’s updated 2022 local ad forecast, total radio revenues will climb to $13.54 billion this year, up 5.9% from $12.79 billion in 2021. That follows 16.0% growth in 2021 from the pandemic era low of $11.03 billion in 2020. While that adds up to a $2.5 billion recovery of lost revenue over two years, it will still fall short of the $14.16 billion radio did in pre-pandemic 2019.

To keep 2021’s upward trajectory going, broadcasters are finding the handful of big ad categories that floated their boat in the past can no longer get the job done on their own. Automotive, still reeling from supply chain disruptions and labor shortages, has cut spending dramatically, while blooming categories like sports betting and recruitment have picked up some of the slack.

“One of radio’s most significant growth categories in 2021, sportsbook advertising, will continue in 2022 as more states legalize online gambling,” says Christine Travaglini, President of rep firm Katz Radio Group. “Big brands understand that they need advertising to attract new customers and hold onto existing customers in a very competitive space. Their initial goals focus on getting consumers to download their app, which is currently how they determine their ROI.”

Other verticals to watch in 2022, industry leaders say, include recruitment, entertainment and events, home improvement, real estate, travel, financial, tech and telecom, healthcare, and the service industry.

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