Zoopla had poured vast sums into advertising and marketing, some of it angled into it becoming the agent’s best friend, with half an eye to defections from Rightmove helping it get closer to number one status.
Meanwhile OnTheMarket - with, by contrast, a small marketing budget and almost no PR - kept telling the trade press that Coronavirus meant this was a pivotal time for portals and that agents were poised to alter the habits of a lifetime.
And the result? Zoopla is still doing very nicely and OTM is doing as well as can be expected in the circumstances but as for Rightmove? Well, it’s almost never been healthier and has perhaps never looked so much like an unassailable number one portal.
Of course revenues slumped 34 per cent and profits dropped 43 per cent - roughly in line with many other parts of the industry, both agents and suppliers. But as for Rightmove membership…well, that dipped just 3.5 per cent. And then there were the figures for how many members of the public logged in and clicked on - some of those figures are literally measured in billions.
The trading statement containing all this included, perhaps understandably, some degree of smugness.
You can see it at its most obvious in the small print where the company claims: “Rightmove is uniquely placed to benefit from the return to a more normal property market. The strong traffic post the easing of the lockdown and the resilience in product and package adoption through the pandemic illustrate the strength of our network and the value our customers see in our products. Rightmove's subscription advertising model, together with the strength of our proposition for both customers and consumers now and in the future, supports…continued confidence in the long term prospects for the business.”
So is that it? Game, set and match to Rightmove?
Maybe - but then again, maybe not.
Readers of a certain age will probably know of the saga of Kodak, once the planet’s leading manufacturer of camera film and a big player in ancillary markets like photo-processing and pre-digital cameras. At its peak in the 1960s and early 1970s Kodak, like Rightmove, was utterly untouchable and, despite vocal critics, was the photographic industry’s king.
But then in 1975, something happened. One of its engineers invented something called a digital camera - and the company effectively ignored it, worried that if it was given the oxygen of both publicity and development, it would destroy the existing Kodak domination.
You can probably guess the rest of the story, even if you’re too young to remember the days when you had to load film into cameras in the dark (yes, really).
Kodak did little to prepare for what became the digital revolution, in cameras and elsewhere, and since then has struggled for relevance: it’s tried to turn itself into a chemical and pharmaceutical company and has even dabbled in cryptocurrency.
So Kodak, once the symbol of corporate success, has become a case study in failure.
Could that really happen to Rightmove? Its opponents, of course, say yes - but many of them said agents would desert the portal in their masses, which clearly hasn’t happened.
Some respected PropTech analysts suggest Rightmove lacks innovation and is a one-trick pony with its business model: they claim that without development, it will one day stagnate and find itself outpaced by another portal or, more likely, a giant like Apple or Facebook.
Certainly the ‘innovation’ part of the most recent trading statement reads very unimpressively compared to the rest.
There are “continual improvements to our platforms including ongoing investment in mobile and tablet platforms” and Rightmove insists it is “developing our product proposition to meet our customers' needs and evolving business models” thanks to “ongoing monitoring of consumer behaviour” and “regular contact with the start-up and PropTech communities to stay abreast of innovations in the marketplace.”
A tad underwhelming? A little too close to the Kodak culture of complacency? Maybe.
But until Rightmove does something wrong, it appears to be doing everything right for its shareholders and agents - otherwise, why would so many of them hang on in there when there is such a choice of rival portals with rival business models?
Rightmove has nothing to fear, but its own mistakes. And they don’t happen often.
*Editor of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today, Graham can be found tweeting about all things property at @PropertyJourn