In a trading update, the Glasgow-headquartered group also pointed to further gains in its audience share but cautioned investors that the pandemic had left its short-term outlook looking “uncertain”.
It said the recovery in advertising was ahead of expectations, with third-quarter total advertising revenues down 4 per cent. That decline pulled back to just 2 per cent during October, STV added.
Total advertising revenue over the January to October period was down 13 per cent due to sharper falls during the spring lockdown.
STV-controlled advertising was said to be “outperforming”, with regional advertising up 8 per cent in the third quarter. Between April and October, STV’s Growth Fund attracted 71 new Scottish advertisers.
The group pointed to its highest TV audience volume growth ever, up 13 per cent in the year to date, with growth continuing into the autumn – gaining 16 per cent in September and 10 per cent in October.
It remains the “most popular peak-time channel in Scotland”, with a 21.5 per cent share in the year to date.
The firm said its ratings success had been driven by the return of the soaps to their full episode count, a strong drama line-up including The Sister and Des – STV’s biggest new drama launch in 18 years – and STV News at Six.
On the studio production front, the group highlighted “good commissioning momentum”, with revenue guidance maintained for a strong 2021.
STV Studios has notched up 14 commissions so far in 2020, its highest ever number, including five recommissions.
It said the UK and Scottish governments had confirmed that TV production can continue during the November English lockdown and through all levels of the new Scottish tiered system for coronavirus. All STV programmes are currently still in production under the industry’s Covid safety protocols, “which are working well”.
Chief executive Simon Pitts said: “2020 has underscored both the loyalty of our viewers and the resilience of our business.
“We’ve seen record growth in audiences across the whole of 2020 so far, not just during lockdown, with TV viewing up 13 per cent and online viewing up 82 per cent.
“Despite the ongoing challenges around Covid-19, I’m encouraged that the advertising market has recovered strongly across the summer and autumn, demonstrating the enduring power of television and our ability to come through further uncertainty with confidence.”
He added: “We remain confident in our prospects for growth, and look forward to finishing the year strongly on screen with November traditionally our biggest month of the year thanks to the return of I’m a Celebrity; while in STV Studios our 14 new commissions so far this year means that 2021 promises to be our most successful year yet.”
Financial results released in September showed that last year’s first-half, pre-tax profit of £9.1 million turned into a £4.9m loss. An interim dividend of 3p per share was declared, down from 6.3p last year, to be satisfied by way of a bonus issue of new ordinary shares as opposed to a cash payment.