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IAB ad spend figures: are Google and Facebook tightening their stranglehold?

Alex Spencer

Facebook and Google headquarters
The IAB has released its annual digital ad spend report for the US – you can find our full story here, but the headline figure was a 22 per cent increase in spend, driven by mobile.

However, there is a big question mark hanging over those figures: just how much of that growth came from the Big Two of digital advertising, Google and Facebook?

Those companies don't break out US figures specifically in their revenue reports, which makes it hard to know for sure – but various estimates from outside sources suggest that the pair might be strengthening their stranglehold on the industry.

Jason Kint, CEO of trade association Digital Content Next, estimates that Google and Facebook together account for 89 per cent of that growth, based on revenue increases of $6.3bn and $5.1bn respectively.

"Duopoly in full force," he tweeted. "Everyone else loses more share courtesy of Facebook." 

Kint's figures were contested on Twitter, but his estimates are conservative next to those of Pivotal Research analyst Brian Wieser. A research note sent to Pivotal's clients said that Google and Facebook accounted for 77 per cent of all ad spend in 2016, compared to 72 per cent a year earlier. 

According to Wieser, that means the two companies account for 99 per cent of the growth reported by the IAB.

The IAB has countered these estimates, with CMO David Doty telling Ad Age that the amount of growth that came from Google and Facebook in Q4 was 69 per cent – though notably no figure was given for the full year. That's still a hefty majority, but not the duopoly that other figures suggest.

"Some of the outside calculations we've seen being used by the media include revenues that go beyond the US, for example," Doty said. "Another thing they don't understand is traffic acquisition costs. And another thing they don't seem to take into account is losses from some within the industry are actually hiding gains from a broader base."