No Recovery This Year: Cowen Says Online Ad Spend Will Fall 6 Percent

imageWhile some might hold out hope that the economy could stabilize in the second half of the year, Cowen & Co. have lowered their revenue forecast for U.S. online ads to a 6 percent decline in 2009 to $22 billion. The financial analyst firm, which tends to offer more pessimistic forecasts compared to other prognosticators, had previously anticipated that online ad spend would drop 3 percent. Online share of the ad market will continue to rise, but only slightly, ending this year 9.4 percent of total U.S. ad budgets over last year’s 8.7 percent.

Facebook beats portals: In keeping with eMarketer’s expectation that Facebook’s revs will grow 9 percent this year, Cowen remains as bullish as ever on the social net. Though eMarketer said that Facebook will end the year with $230 million in revenues, Cowen concludes that Facebook will generate roughly $500 million in sales, mostly through display advertising. Cowen also estimates that Facebook’s advertising growth rates will be up around 70 percent, the highest on its list of 22 other major online media properties. By comparison, has the next highest growth rates at 20 percent.

And of that list, the only other sites that saw gains in Q1 are WebMD (NSDQ: WBMD) (16 percent), Google (NSDQ: GOOG) worldwide (7 percent), Google U.S. (4 percent), and Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) U.S. search (3 percent). On the other end of the list, Yahoo display was down 13 percent, Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) dropped 16 percent and AOL (NYSE: TWX) display fell 17 percent. Cowen finds a direct connection between Facebook’s successful growth and the portals’ downward trends, even as the companies exit the recession. The basic trend is that users are spending more time with Facebook — an average of 3 hours per month on the site — than with portals. Facebook had 200 million active users in April, up from 150 million in January. If that growth trend continues, Facebook’s user base will be larger than Yahoo’s in about two years. More after the jump

Yahoo beats AOL, MSN: That said, within the portal group, Yahoo is pegged to come out on top. Cowen expects Yahoo’s display business is $1.6 billion. The researcher feels that despite the extensive efforts on the part of AOL and Microsoft to build up their content lately, Yahoo will be able to maintain its strength in finance, news, sports and e-mail. Nevertheless, even once the recession is over, Yahoo is not likely to grow at a faster pace than the overall online ad market over the next five years.

Paid search surges: Eventually, online advertising will make up about 25 percent of the overall ad market, which Cowen calculates based on the historical experience of TV’s growth. That seems like a tenuous comparison to build a theory on, but alongside those those projections, paid search will comprise 15 percent of global ad market, up from about 5 percent currently. Google accounts for about 4 percent of the current global market, but Cowen says the company is poised to triple that growth over time.

Newspapers share remains flat: Further breaking down the share of the online ad market in the U.S., Google will have a 33 percent share in 2010, followed by “other,” which makes up 22 percent. Yahoo is estimated to remain 12 percent, where it has been every year since 2007, tying it with newspaper websites, many of which have become increasingly reliant on their alliance with the portal. Back in 2003, Cowen said that newspapers took a 17 percent share, which fell to 13 percent last year.

Looking over some of the most recent forecasts from other analysts, only Cowen is expecting a decline at the moment. We’ll see how far down others revise over the next few months. But for now, here’s how online ad spending in the U.S. looks for this year:

ZenithOptimedia: +4.5 percent
eMarketer: 4.5 percent
Barclays: 2.3 percent
BernsteinResearch: 5.9 percent
UBS: 1.4 percent
JP Morgan: 10 percent (display ads, including both performance and branded advertising, will grow only 6.3 percent.)

Comments have been disabled for this post