US Online Media Spend in 2021 and the Outlook for 2022

February 14, 2022

Online media spend in the US totaled $240.4 billion in 2021, up 36% from 2020, according to the latest data from Winterberry Group. This growth is twice the 17.8% year-over-year growth predicted for last year, showing that online media channels fared far better than expected into the second year of the pandemic.

Here’s a rundown of this latest look at spending on each channel, in order of spend last year.

Search

As seen in the past few years, search accounted for the largest chunk of US online media spending in 2021. Spend in this channel totaled $84.7 billion in 2021, up 39.1% over the previous year. This year’s growth is expected to be considerably lower, at 12.3% year-over-year (y-o-y), with total spending projected to reach $95.2 billion.

Paid Social 

Paid social maintained its standing as the second-largest portion of US online media spend in 2021. Growing by 33.3% y-o-y, spending on paid social totaled $58.6 billion. Although spending on paid search is considerably higher than paid social in the US, on a global basis, this is likely to be different. Mid-year data from Zenith predicted that social media ad spend would nudge past paid search by the end of 2021.

Investment in paid social is expected to grow by 15.1% this year, to reach $67.4 billion.

Digital Video

Digital video spending continues to grow at a rapid rate. In 2021, it grew by an impressive 46.2% over the year before, reaching $41 billion. The double-digit growth is expected to continue into this year, with a projected increase of 23.1% to $50.4 billion.

CTV/Streaming

In a departure from previous years, Winterberry Group has separated CTV/streaming media spend from digital video this year. As such, CTV streaming saw the fastest growth in spending out of all the online media analyzed (+59.9% to reach $14.4 billion). This result isn’t surprising considering the growth in CTV devices in 2021, as well as data showing that, in H1 2021, CTV accounted for three-fifths of premium digital video ad views in the US. Looking to this year, CTV/streaming spend is expected to grow by 32.3% y-o-y, to reach $19.1 billion.

Display

Display — which the report notes only refers to banner ads that appear on desktop — saw growth of 15.8% in 2021, accounting for $14.1 billion of total online media spend. Spending on display is set to increase by 9.9% this year, reaching $15.5 billion. 

Email/SMS

As the channel which saw the slowest rate of growth in 2021, email/SMS spend increased by a relatively modest 10.8% to $5.7 billion. The muted growth is expected to continue into this year, with spend projected to increase by 7.1% to $6.1 billion.

Digital Audio (Radio/Podcasts)

After experiencing a decrease in spending in 2020, digital audio (radio/podcasts) investments bounced back last year, increasing 17% to $5.6 billion. eMarketer data shows that, although digital audio is primarily supported by subscriptions, revenues from ads are forecast to increase in the next few years. This is supported by projections of an 11.9% increase in media spend for this channel this year.

Video Game Advertising

New to Winterberry Group’s analysis, video game advertising benefited from the lift in people and time spent playing video games. Spending in this area grew by 22.9% in 2021 to $5 billion. This year, spending on video game advertising is expected to grow by 14.1%. 

Influencer

Influencer spending rose to $4.6 billion in 2021, representing year-over-year growth of 43.1%. In 2022, influencer spending is projected to see the fastest growth of all the online media channels examined (+51.3% to reach $7 billion).

Affiliate Network Fees

Affiliate network fees are also new to Winterberry Group’s mix of online media analyzed. Spending in this area, excluding media and platform costs, grew by 27.8% in 2021 to $3.4 billion. While growth is still expected this year, it should be at a slower rate (15.6%). 

Digital Out-of-Home

Still recovering from notable declines in spending in 2020, digital out-of-home (DOOH) advertising enjoyed growth of 19.9% last year, accounting for $3.1 billion of total online spend. The growth will continue this year, with spend increasing 14.2%.

The full report can be found here.

About the Data: Findings are based on Winterberry Group spend estimates.

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