WPP CEO Sorrell: Google Will Overtake News Corp As Our Largest Media Investment This Year Or Next

Martin Sorrell, the CEO of WPP, today laid out a stark picture of how significant a role digital is playing for the advertising giant. Speaking at the FT Digital Media Conference in London today, he said that digital now accounts for 34% of WPP’s revenues, amounting to some $72 billion, rising “from zero to over one-third in about ten years, the age of Google,” he said.

(Full-year revenues for WPP in 2012 were £10.4 billion ($16 billion).)

Google, he said, is the second-largest recipient of that digital spend at the moment, at around $2 billion for the quarter, but that it will soon overtake the single biggest beneficiary at the moment, News Corp. Sorrell described Google as “a media owner masquerading as a tech company.”

Sorrell referred to these numbers as a preview of WPP’s quarterly results, which are out tomorrow.

He added that at the moment AOL and Yahoo are each getting around $400 million to $500 million in ad spend via WPP. Facebook, despite its size and current popularity, is only around $270 million. Twitter, he added, is “much smaller.”

With a lot of the interest in media spend focused on video content — TV viewing is still the most popular format for media consumption — you can see how significant YouTube is for Google’s wider strategy. You can also see some of the logic behind why there have been reports that Yahoo is eyeing up an acquisition or a stake in Dailymotion, a smaller but persistent rival to YouTube. Those talks have never been confirmed by either party, but we understand they have been ongoing for some time, and could value the company at around $300 million.

But video is just a part of the strategy. The reason for Google’s strength, Sorrell said, was because there are “five legs to its stool”: search, display, video (“we’re seeing increasing google penetration especially in high TV markets,” he noted), social google+ and mobile by way of Android and Admob. Android is the world’s most popular smartphone platform at the moment and by some estimates in some markets like like China is accounting for over two-thirds of all mobile sales.

Speaking on a panel with Jeff Bewkes, the CEO of Time Warner, and Thomas Rabe, the CEO of Bertlesmann, Sorrell described the other two media companies, more known for traditional media assets in publishing, television and film, as having “come to terms” with the new digital reality, making efforts to bring their products to new screens and following new consumption patterns. But he also questioned whether they are doing enough: “Their stocks are both at all-time highs,” he noted, “but is there a degree of complacency?”

Sorrell also noted that while digital spend continues to grow there remains a “disconnect” between consumer use and ad investments. In TV, about 43% of time is spent, which mirrors investment, and outdoor and radio “are about right.” But the two big discrepancies are in newspapers and magazines, where we’re still investing 20% but consumers spending 7-9%; and internet and mobile where “we’re spending 30% of our time but media only investing about 20%.”

As we have noted before, WPP’s aim is to have 40% of its business coming from digital in the next five years (that was an aim set last year), meaning that it is well on its way. Investments that WPP itself has made to boost its own ability to meet digital demand include buying digital agency AKQA and startup investments, such as leading a $10 million round in MySupermarket.com last year.