Only Google and ITV should be larger than Facebook in Britain by the end of next year, according to estimates compiled by Campaign.
Facebook is forecast to make £1.4bn from advertising in Britain in 2017, up from £1.15bn this year, according to eMarketer.
Channel 4’s sales house and Sky Media both benefited from bumper TV ad sales in 2015, but the market is expected to slow in the next two years.
Industry sources believe Channel 4 should generate between £1.3bn and £1.35bn by 2017, after the broadcaster’s annual report said this week it enjoyed a 9% jump to £1.17bn last year.
Sky Media is expected to make up to £1.3 billion in the UK this year and £1.35bn in 2017.
Ian Maude, a director of Be Heard, a digital marketing group and long-time industry analyst, said: "If Facebook does not overtake Channel 4 and Sky in 2017, it is very likely to be in 2018. To some degree, social media companies can be mercurial, but Facebook appears to be building a really solid business."
Several sources said eMarketer’s estimates should be treated with caution because Facebook does not publish UK revenues.
Tim Elkington, strategy director at the Internet Advertising Bureau, would not comment on Facebook’s performance but pointed to its industry-wide survey that showed revenues from social media display leapt 45% in the UK last year.
Facebook declined to comment. But Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s global vice-president of marketing solutions, who handles major clients and agencies, told Campaign in an interview that the UK was "a leading market" because there is "an incredible amount of mobile usage" and there is 90% internet penetration among the population.
Facebook has invested in "an incredible expansion of resources and opportunity" in the UK and "that’s been very rewarding to see", she added.
Sky Media and Channel 4 declined to comment, but made clear they don’t see Facebook as a threat. Sky is one of the biggest UK advertisers on Facebook.
The view from the industry
Matthew Williams, marketing activation director, Mondelez International:
"Facebook has become a key part of all our campaigns. It is critical that we maximise our reach and, in today’s media landscape, Facebook and other digital platforms are crucial. And on top of the millions of consumers it reaches, Facebook also helps you to engage them in ever more effective ways, for example using the Facebook API to serve them creative that matches their interests."
Ian Pearman, CEO, AMV BBDO:
"Facebook’s challenge is to develop measurement tools that capture brand effect not just performance marketing signals. Otherwise the current data will drive the industry into creating ever more shouty work that has logos at the start of every ad and forgoes narrative and engagement. Facebook knows this and wants to help, and has a shared interest in encouraging higher quality work that consumers actually want to watch."
Mark Evans, group marketing director, Direct Line:
"Facebook do not yet have a place on the media plan ‘by default’. We’re still trying to establish the ROI it provides our brands, whereas we have long established this for Channel 4, Google and Sky."
Lucy Jameson, CEO, Grey London:
"This is interesting because it shows mobile-first thinking is critical and most agencies are still not prepared for this. At the most basic practical level, we have to show creative work in portrait and with no sound for Facebook on mobile vs adopting a classic film approach."
Guy Wieynk, CEO Western Europe, Publicis Worldwide:
"This is huge news for our industry and will apply additional pressure to changing the way agencies apply their craft. More than 100 million hours of video watched a day are viewed on Facebook but when research shows about half of video watched on mobile is with no sound, it shows the industry has a long way to go in optimising experiences for consumers."
Peter Markey, UK director of brand and comms, Aviva:
"Facebook as a channel has grown because they’ve evolved the platform in a smart and clever way, based on what advertisers are looking to do. Facebook isn’t a blunt tool because you can target custom audiences with precision. It can attract brands that can spend at all sorts of levels from SMEs, which might be precluded from the spend levels in traditional media, to large corporates. The other thing is Facebook, has pioneered in bringing rules of direct and data-driven marketing into broadcast world. Facebook hasn’t been eating into broadcast [TV budgets]. I could see a direction of travel that evolves use of broadcast and social, where they come together more."
Martin Moll, general manager of marketing communications in Europe and Russia, Nissan:
"It's no surprise that Facebook is so dominant as a platform and taking an advantage over more traditional, passive media. Successful brands have to increase their level of active engagement with their customers and be more relevant, more interactive and create opportunities for dialogue. Brands need to make their messaging and content relevant to consumers and fit for the channel, especially in social media, otherwise they just risk being perceived as bluntly ‘interrupting’ consumers’ conversations."