TV's Not Dead: Six Recurring Myths Page 2

4. PVR – the death of the 30-second spot?

When the first digital TV recorder launched in 1999, there was little doubt that the technology would be a success, but the overriding narrative was not about how it would enhance and increase TV viewing but how it would destroy the 30-second spot. Why, the experts reasoned, would people sit and watch the commercials they had always professed to find so irritating when they could arrange to watch all their favourite programmes in time shift mode and then fast forward through the ads in just a few seconds?

In the UK, mainly due to the success of BSkyB’s marketing of Sky Plus, the number of homes owning a PVR has grown to 50% in less than a decade. During that time, not only has total viewing grown consistently and significantly, but the viewing of TV commercials at normal speed has grown even faster. When PVRs first came to market, the average UK viewer watched on average 38 commercials in full every day. Now they watch almost 48. How can this be?

Part of the reason for the growth in commercial impacts is that we are simply prepared to watch more commercials. A greater proportion of UK viewing is going to non-PSB (public service broadcaster) commercial channels, and those channels are allowed more advertising minutage than the three commercial PSBs. So consumers, who are watching more TV in the first place, are exposed to more advertising per hour viewed.

Even when they do record programmes on their PVRs, those consumers are not lost to the advertiser. On average, PVR owners watch around a third of time-shifted commercials at normal speed. Often it is because they forget they are watching in time shift mode (a big chunk of playback is via live pause). There is also plenty of evidence that they will often stop fast forwarding to share a particularly entertaining or relevant commercial – a valuable advertising opportunity if ever there was one.

What this all adds up to is a net increase in the viewing of TV ads at normal speed of two to three percentage points compared to before the PVR was installed. Far from destroying the 30-second spot, PVRs appear to be increasing our exposure to TV advertising across the board (there is also strong evidence that fast forwarding increases the impact of sponsorship bumpers because they are used as signposts). This is true of just about every developed TV market and is consistent across every research tool used to measure it.

PVRs show no indication of destroying the TV advertising model – indeed, they appear to be strengthening it. People don’t adopt PVRs to avoid ads, but to improve their viewing experience and watch more programmes. The fact that not only does that expose them to more advertising, but that they are more likely to be engaged with the surrounding programmes, shows how even the most ‘disruptive’ technologies can prove to be a blessing in disguise.

What all this means is a thriving spot advertising market. Viewing of TV commercials is at astonishing levels. In the past five years alone, when the TV spot has been under so much pressure, the time spent watching UK commercials at normal speed increased by almost 25% and reached record levels for every main trading audience.

5. Advertising is dead – or is it?

The death of advertising has been predicted for some time. Take this quote from a magazine article: “Advertisements are now so numerous that they are very negligently perused, and it is therefore become necessary to gain attention by magnificence of promises, and by eloquence sometimes sublime and sometimes pathetic.”

It is from a magazine called The Idler and is the first reported comment on ad avoidance. It was written by celebrated London chronicler Dr Samuel Johnson in 1759.

We have always expected audiences to try to avoid advertising; maybe that is due to a sense of low self-esteem on the part of those who create it. Advertising is everywhere and, just as with the linear schedule, its death has been widely presumed.

The ‘death of advertising’ lobby points to the recent declines in TV revenues (all of which were clawed back in 2010). They point to the increase in marketing activities that seek to bypass paid-for media in favour of ‘owned’ media (the company’s website, free magazine or branded channel), or ‘earned’ media, such as viral views on YouTube). They talk about the ‘age of interruption’, when most of our brand conversations are created through interruptive advertising in the first place.

Advertising revenues aren’t dying, they are shifting, recently from display to classified (through the phenomenal growth of the search advertising market) and from brand building to response. So far, that shift has not radically impacted on TV’s revenue base, contrary to expectation. Plus, there is plenty of evidence that the tide is turning and the role of display advertising is becoming more valued.

6. The death of ‘content’?

The final, often vaguely outlined threat to television’s future I will refer to as the Apocalypse View. Content will be free and easily accessible, its value will decline exponentially, advertising will be instantly avoidable and we will consume content we generate ourselves. All of the Apocalyptics’ predictions are vague on what this replacement content will look like, but all tend to agree that the ‘traditional’ media channels will crumble in its wake.

Yet, the more choice that is available, the more people are returning to the ‘trusted editors’ to help manage it. Nowhere is this truer than for television. Despite ever-increasing alternative ways to find any video content ever made, scheduled TV still forms the vast bulk of our audio-visual entertainment, a massively-growing market in itself. Consumers are still flocking to the schedules, and channel brands and EPGs are their main navigational tools.

But TV’s real power doesn’t lie in the technology – it lies in the content. TV offers high-quality, curated, rich media storytelling entertainment, and people will always flock to that. So will advertisers. Given that brands will always be with us and the financial impact of branding is becoming better understood over time, all the evidence suggests TV will be able to offer scale, impact, engagement and effectiveness to justify their investment. Add in the willingness of consumers to pay for that same high-quality, narrative-led entertainment content (let’s just call it TV for short), then we should follow the money.

To the Apocalyptics, I say people will always be prepared to pay for better access and better content, but if they can get it for free with some advertising included, they are remarkably receptive to that option. Unless a cost-free, ad-free, hassle-free alternative is easily available, consumers will follow the content, and where consumers congregate, especially if they are engaged and receptive, then brands will seek them out. Some forms of content may have become commoditised, but TV is performing better than all expectations.

David Brennan is founder of media consultancy Media Native This is an edited extract from David Brennan’s book, TV’s Not Dead! How television’s analogue strengths have created a digital supermedium, published by New Generation Publishing, 2013 and taken from the June issue of Market Leader. This article first appeared on The Marketing Society 

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