A New TV World


I recently saw a presentation by a major multi-channel TV broadcaster on  how new technologies are affecting TV viewing habits in the typical digitally enabled family.

Whilst the content of this presentation was useful I did not feel that it really got to the heart of the changes that are happening at the moment and will continue to happen at an increasing rate.

The main point that the presenter wanted us to take out was that “Live broadcast TV is not dead and in fact continues to form the foundation of all AV viewing”

The two main pieces of evidence for this were:

1) Anecdotally, many consumers don’t want the hassle that comes with computers to accompany their TV viewing. If you can’t just switch it on and go, then they won’t bother.

2) According to BARB more than 80% of viewing is still done “live” and only around 20% is timeshifted

Now I have issues with the conclusions derived from this evidence. The first point just means that the technology hasn’t quite got to the stage that consumers are comfortable with it, but that is just a matter of time. The second point just seems to avoid the issue.

I’m not going to sit here and ring the death knell for Broadcast TV. Too many other people are doing it and I think they’re wrong too. Since the earliest forms of media, it is incredibly rare for one form of media to be killed by another. New “formats” may have made old formats obsolete – DVDs have killed VHS, paper killed parchment, but that’s just storage really. The media form is the content itself and paintings weren’t killed by photos any more than the TV “killed” Cinema or internet will “kill” TV.

But the claim – “80% of viewing is still live in PVR households” – rang completely false with me.

Having had Sky + for nearly 2 years now, I could no longer imagine being imprisoned by a broadcast TV schedule and being compelled to watch 3 minutes of TV advertising for every 15 minutes of content. My estimations of my own TV viewing were that I watched approximately 80% timeshifted and 20% live.

In mini survey across the office I found that on average people with PVRs claimed to watch in the ratio of 60:40 for recorded:live broadcast content respectively.

This is clearly at odds with the official data and my survey of a few dozen people clearly is no match for the mighty BARB, but this backs up every conversation I’ve had with anyone who has a PVR.

When I asked what kind of programmes they watched when live, it became a bit more clear why the claimed behaviour is perhaps different from actual recorded behaviour.

4 Types of TV

4 distinct types of programme came out of the survey – 2 that are typically viewed as recorded and 2 that are viewed “live”

The two types of recorded content were

1)Long running “appointment to view” series, often high quality US drama/comedy imports – e.g. Lost, Desperate Housewives, The Wire, and also Soaps. – “I don’t want to miss my favourite show”

2) Films/long form one-off documentaries etc – ” I want to start watching when it is convenient for me, not on the exact hour”

The two types of “live” content were

3) Live “event” type programming – News/Sport/Reality TV finales etc – Basically anything where it would be old hat by the following day, so needed to be watched as it happened

4) Background/Filler/browsing TV – magazine style shows -the latest re-run of Top Gear on Dave, Saturday morning Cookery shows etc – stuff where it really doesn’t matter if you miss 5 minutes here or there and it doesn’t suck you in so you’re happy to switch off part way through

My personal theory is that people don’t accurately claim point 4) in their total claimed viewing.  If they forget about this then they only actively remember about 2/3rds of their viewing which explains the under-claim against live TV

Of the 4 different types of programming, I would suggest that in a PVR household only number (3) actually has advertising that regularly gets watched live by an attentive audience. For 1 & 2 consumers are likely to fast-forward over ads and in point 4, they are just getting on with other things and just passively consuming the TV in background.

Whether or not the ratios of recorded to live are being accurately picked up, this analysis poses some interesting questions about how advertisers buy and how broadcasters sell their schedules in the future.

a) In a PVR household what is the relative value of Sponsorship idents to spot advertising in a show such as Lost? In a future world where PVRs are the standard (not that far away) Is there any value to the middle of 6 30″ spots in an ad break that is being fastfowarded?

b) Should we use the same copy in a break in the X-factor as we do for a break in Top Gear re-runs – One is likely to be consumed actively where one is much more passive – more like radio…

My suggestion is that broadcast TV is not dead, but it is to maintain anything like it’s current share of ad revenue it needs to significantly re-think it’s sales model and ad-agencies need to re-think how their ads engage their audience

For new high-quality serial and one-off content (1) and (2) (Movies and dramas etc) the sponsorship credit should be the highest value item in the schedule. If spot advertising is allowed at all, it should be one advert only to a maximum of 40″ which broadcasters then charge a premium for. If we make the ad-break so short that it is more hassle to fastfoward over it than to watch it then we’ll actually get significantly more high quality ad views.

For “event” TV (3), we could probably use the existing style of ad break model, and utilise our strongest and most entertaining creative to keep consumers engaged throughout the break. It might even be necessary to insist upon limited frequency per execution and a minimum “enjoyment” standard to preserve the value of the break

For “background” TV (4), we might have to re-visit the creative style of the advertising and take some learnings from radio about how messages can be absorbed more passively.

This may mean that some campaigns need at least 3 different pieces of copy plus sponsorship idents in order to cut through, or alternatively advertisers can choose to focus in different areas depending on their strategic communications objectives.

It also means that the supply of broadcast minutage is seriously depleted, but each minute massively increases in true value.

This is obviously an idealised model and is based upon a scenario where PVRs are in a significant majority of homes, but whatever a new model looks like, it’s starting to become very clear that we just can’t buy and sell TV in the way we’ve always used to. In an uncertain world the one thing that is certain is that staying the same is a route to obscurity.

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