US Online Media Spend in 2020 and the Outlook for 2021

March 1, 2021

WinterberryGroup US Online Media Spend Review Outlook Feb2021Online media spend in the US totaled $168.4 billion in 2020, up 8% from 2019. So say the latest figures [pdf] from Winterberry Group, which last year predicted a higher growth of 14.5% for 2020. Unsurprisingly, after a difficult year, this lower-than-predicted spend includes a decline in spending in some areas. Even so, all digital categories are expected to bounce back this year, with a predicted 17.8% growth in overall spend. Here’s a rundown of this latest look at spending on each channel, in order of spend last year.


As in 2019 and 2018, search accounted for the largest share of US online media spending in 2020. Spend in this channel totaled $58.0 billion in 2020, up 5.9% on the previous year. This year’s growth rate is expected to climb to 14.1% year-over-year (y-o-y), with total search spending projected to reach $66.2 billion.

Paid Social

In 2020, paid social replaced display as the second-largest portion of US online media spend after search, at $41.4 billion. Relatedly, paid social was one of the top channels budgets were diverted to from cancelled or paused advertising, according to Advertiser Perceptions research from April last year. This channel is set to enjoy one of the higher growth rates in spend this year (15.5%) but will be overtaken, once again, by display.


Last year, display ad spending growth was relatively muted at 6.8%, pushing it slightly behind paid social with a total spend of $41 billion. However, the growth rate of display expenditure is expected to almost triple this year (+19.1%) to reach $48.9 billion.

Digital Video (OTT/Streaming)

Digital video (OTT/streaming) spend stood at $8.1 billion in 2020, and while this is a significantly lower amount than the top three channels, it enjoyed the fastest growth of all channels in 2020 (27.1%). Not only that, but it is expected to see the most rapid growth again this year, with an expected increase of 40.1% to $11.4 billion.


Influencer spend rose to a significant $7.5 billion in 2020, representing growth of 15.4%. However, having seen the largest growth rate of all channels in 2019, last year it ceded that spot to digital video in 2020, likely due to the pandemic. In 2021, influencer spend is expected to continue to grow, by a forecast 32.4%, to reach $9.9 billion.


As one of the few channels where spending did not grow in 2020, email/SMS spend registered a decline of a mere 0.2% to $5.1 billion. However, the channel is expected to see positive growth once again in 2021, with spend increasing by 9.9% to $5.6 billion.

Digital Audio (Radio/Podcasts)

Digital audio (radio/podcasts) spend was harder hit in 2020, declining by 13.4% to $4.5 billion. This is despite other research from Morning Consult, which found that consumers were turning to music and podcasts more during the pandemic. Nonetheless, this channel’s spend is set to bounce back in 2021 to grow by 17.4% and reach $5.3 billion.

Digital Out-of-Home

Digital out-of-home (DOOH) advertising saw the largest y-o-y decline in spend in 2020 (-19.3%) and accounted for the smallest amount of total online spend ($2.6 billion). As the very safety of consumers being out of their homes was called into question by the pandemic, offline and digital out-of-home spend plummeted beginning in Q2 of 2020. Granted, DOOH is expected to bounce back this year and increase by 19.4%.

The full report can be found here.

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

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