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The Times finds the perfect Homeland

Whenever I hear someone say ‘content is king’ I shudder. It’s like nails down a blackboard or polystyrene being rubbed or Joe Pasquale’s pillow talk. I shudder not because of the gendered nature of the phrase, but because it is so over-used and because the word ‘content’ has become so meaningless and debased.

Everyone is a ‘content creator’ now and everything is ‘content’, from a beautifully crafted episode of Homeland, a thoughtful magazine feature, an intelligent debate on the radio to an uploaded Gif of a cat yawning. Not all content is king. Some shouldn’t even be let through the city gates.

And just as there are chasms in quality between different content, so there are chasms in quality between different contexts for content. Context is queen – or maybe even Empress. Consider, as an example, the fact that half of non-TV online video is adult content. No doubt this provides a fertile context for some specialist advertisers, but it is hardly a world-beating brand-building environment. I can’t vouch for the quality of the content however.

You can see where I’m going here. I can tell. Yes, TV content offers consistently high quality and trustworthy contexts for advertising. But every so often a piece of TV planning comes along that marries content and context with perfection and we had one this weekend when The Times took over the entire ad break during Channel 4’s Homeland to run a short film about the kidnapping and escape of two of its journalists – Anthony Loyd and Jack Hill – in Syria.

Not only was it a compelling and moving piece of content in its own right, but in Homeland – a drama about the war on terror, where the action this series is set in Pakistan – it found the perfect context with the perfect audience. They echoed each other beautifully and this made The Times film all the more poignant as you saw fiction merge with reality seamlessly.

Contextual advertising like this is a very powerful and effective way to use TV. It requires the kind of close collaboration between broadcaster and brand which you’re unlikely to get programmatically. Other great examples include when the British Heart Foundation memorably went first in break during Coronation Street after Audrey suffered a heart attack, and – at the other end of the emotional scale – Oreo teamed up with TOWIE for an ad featuring stars from the show resolving an argument with a ‘lick race’, which is when you split an Oreo and race to see who can lick the cream off first (you get a biscuit each obvs).

You can watch The Times film here. And you really should anyway, especially if you value the incredible lengths some people go to on our behalves to send us content, regardless of the often perilous contexts they find themselves in.

 

Today’s the Day

Every so often a Day with a capital ‘D’ comes along which the world has been crying out for. Every so often an issue of global importance is distilled into 24 hours of honest, sensible and necessary focus. The world stands still, draws breath and releases a collective gasp of relief that finally something is being done about the elephant in the room. This week played host to one of those days.

Yes, International Men’s Day was on Tuesday (it was a bull elephant in the room). The same day in fact as World Toilet Day. Just saying.

I’m sorry if you missed either of them. But one Day I insist you don’t miss is today: World TV Day (television, not transvestites). For my money that just pips International Men’s Day.

World TV Day is a global, multi-lingual and beautiful thing. It is the annual reminder put in the calendar by the United Nations that TV plays a hugely important part in our lives.

But why does TV deserve a day? I’ll leave it to the masterful Richard Curtis to explain:

“It’s impossible to overvalue the importance of television – both in its serious and less serious functions. It’s one of our most important ways of finding out the truth – and also of changing the world, and finding out what in the world needs changing. It’s also an immense bringer of joy – I learnt how to laugh through television, and now my children and I, every day of every week, share the joy and stupidity of TV shows – they actually make us HAPPY.”

I can’t really improve on that. Well, I could add it does incredible things for advertisers. 94% of IPA Effectiveness Gold Award winners from the last ten years had TV at their heart in fact. But I won’t bang on about it, as today is more about the cultural, not the commercial significance of TV. Although the two do entwine.

To mark World TV Day, TV organisations from around Europe, including ourselves, have teamed up like a herd of mixed-gender elephants and brought together the latest statistics on how viewers are multi-screening across the continent. You can have a look at them here. Our continental cousins have also created a TV ad celebrating the power of TV and TV broadcasters across the continent are running the ad today. You can watch it here.

So happy World TV Day! Follow the celebrations via #WeLoveTV and #WorldTVDay.

 

 

Remember Preston?

Ever since the sad news came through about Lynda Bellingham’s death from cancer, I’ve been waiting for the right time to write a blog about her amazing contribution to the Oxo brand between 1983 and 1999. But then I read about this gentleman who has created a (surprisingly excellent) portrait of Lynda using just Oxo cubes and water  and realised I was being absurdly over-sensitive. There’s nothing unseemly about the fact that Lynda’s memory is seen through the flavoursome filter of meaty stock. She was a much-loved performer not despite her performance in the Oxo ads but in part because of them.

Most creative briefs these days mandate a ‘social’ idea that will spark conversation and participation; yet here is a campaign that launched before Mark Zuckerberg was a twinkle in his parents’ eye delivering exactly that 31 years later.

If you’ve re-watched any of those ads since Lynda’s death you’ll have been reminded of the superb scripts, the subtle acting and how the brand is woven into a long-running family saga. If you’ve never seen them go here immediately to watch and learn. As Lynda’s fans clamour for those ads to be re-run we should stop and wonder how many other brands have ads that people would love to see again and that live on so vividly in the public’s long-term memory. It can be dangerous to dissect but we can safely say that they obey some crucial rules we’ve learned about branding:

1. Emotion. All emotions. This is a family that adores each other but that also bickers and sulks.

2. Forget the ‘message’. Oxo’s benefits are never explicitly stated; they are implicit in the family’s warmth and pleasure in each other’s company.

3. Long-running story-telling. Sixteen years with the same characters and actors. That’s commitment.

4. Dialogue. Real people talking to each other. Yes, music is a key part of many successful ads but dialogue is woefully underused in this era of global campaigns.

We often say that brand equity is what will deliver future profits for companies. But investment in brand advertising is being squeezed in favour of short-term returns. And long-term econometric analysis is being abandoned, with brands thinking that just ‘counting’ the short-term actions will suffice. Well, I’d love to calculate the true ROI on 30 year old ads that still resonate so powerfully for their brands.

Above all, Lynda and Oxo show us that creating advertising that people like, love and want to see again is both possible and supremely worth the effort.

And, if you want to learn more about creating magic on TV, come to our free event on Nov 13th where we have assembled a stunning cast of creatives and marketers, including the directors of John Lewis’s brilliant Monty the penguin ad and the much anticipated Sainsbury’s Christmas ad. Details here.

 

Jingle sells

In our office we have a young man – let’s call him Tomek, as that is his name – who starts getting excited about Christmas on the 26th of December and stays excited all year, reaching a climax in November when he starts dressing as an elf and coming to work on a reindeer. Once he starts telling you how many days, hours and minutes there are until Christmas, you know the big day is looming.

But, of course, colleagues dressed as elves is not the only sign that Christmas is on its way. A more common sign – and more widely experienced – is when our TV ads dust off their baubles and start getting festive. And that sign has come.

We’ve already seen the launch of Christmas campaigns from the likes of Debenhams, DFS, Halfords and Notonthehighstreet.com, and the highly anticipated seasonal favourite John Lewis is just round the corner. Some people might think it is all a bit too early but ‘Christmas’, says John Lewis, has been the most popular search item on its website for nearly two months.

Ad breaks are breaking out in tinsel and, with immaculate timing, a new piece of research from retail research agency Shoppercentric (reported in the Telegraph) has found that two thirds (65%) of the shoppers surveyed claimed that Christmas TV ads influence their Christmas spending. This is well over double the next ad medium, which is retailer magazines (26%). Social media was deemed to have very little impact with Facebook on 12% and Twitter on 4%. Now this is obviously claimed behaviour rather than rigorous econometrics, but it shows what people think they do.

And so, using the research as a flimsy excuse, I asked Thinkbox colleagues to name a favourite Christmas TV ad past or present. Here’s what they said…

Nicole Greenfield-Smith, Research Controller: ‘I absolutely loved the Royal Mail’s Christmas offering last year by Beta. Hard working posties battle their way day and night through snow and rain to deliver eagerly anticipated presents to overexcited kids and anxious mums. Unlike my local postman, the smile never leaves their faces and they do whatever it takes to drop that parcel into the lucky recipient’s hands. The music is great, the feeling is festive and it warms the Christmas cockles of even the Scroogiest viewer.’

Neil Mortensen, Research and Planning Director: ‘I loved the Sainsbury’s ‘Christmas in a day’ ad last year by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO. I’m a soppy fool and one of favourite things about Christmas is bringing all my family together. It is such a powerful mini-film starring ordinary people from all over the UK. My heart warms when we see a family sending video Christmas wishes to their soldier dad in Afghanistan – only for him to surprise his three children as he unexpectedly bursts through the door and is mobbed. I’m crying now thinking of it.’

Sam Holtmon, Web & Multimedia Executive: ‘BBH’s brilliant send up of glossy straight-faced Christmas ads in 2013 for KFC was both audacious and hilarious. Any sign of schmaltz was jettisoned in favour of barbed observations and mocking tones, all neatly packaged in a jolly sing-along you’ll find difficult to shake off.  Despite ripping apart the Christmas TV ad rulebook in two-and-a-half-minutes, the ad still skillfully manages to retain the underlying spirit of Christmas – getting together with friends and family, while sharing a ton of food round the table. Whether that’s a dozen buckets of KFC, is another issue.’

Lindsey Clay, Chief Executive: ‘Collective yawn from m’colleagues as I choose a girl power ad: “Here come the girls” by Mother for Boots is the one for me. Well observed insight about the amount of effort we laydees put into getting ready for the Christmas party. I love the scenes of frenetic, semi-competitive primping contrasted with dreary tumbleweed party, prior to the girls’ arrival.’

Tomek Lasocki, Planning Executive: ‘There are quite a few up there but I guess I have to go back to this old favourite: Coca Cola’s ‘Holidays are coming’. I love it because it reminds me of being a child and getting overly excited about Christmas (something I don’t really do anymore as you know) and the music just seems to remind me that ‘tis the season’ when the snow starts to fall (and unfortunately in London, quickly melts and turns into an uncomfortable mush that just disrupts all parts of our lives) and curling up under a blanket in front of the log fire having just consumed far too much food and alcohol knowing that the only thing to look forward to is round two of it all. All of that and presents of course (I’m not materialistic but if I give someone a present they better like it, or at least pretend to).’

Frankie Anthony, Research & Planning Executive: ‘My favourite Christmas advert definitely has to be The Long Wait from John Lewis by adam&eveDDB. I know it might be an obvious one but it’s just amazing and makes me feel all warm and Christmassy inside! I love the cover of The Smiths but my favourite bit has to be the glimpse of his little sister dressed as a Gruffalo.’

Hannah McMullen, Head of Marketing: ‘To me, nothing says Christmas more than arguing with my family over who gets the purple ones. And we have the wonderful Christmas TV ad from Quality Street to thank. ‘Magic Moments’ by Ogilvy & Mather is an ad which bring back memories of Christmas past for me and has made Quality Street become synonymous with Christmas for the nation. It’s sweet, simply executed, has a wonderful theme song and the message of giving comes through to warm the cockles.’

Leila Travis, Head of Planning: ‘My favourite Christmas ad is Irn Bru’s The Snowman parody by The Leith Agency from 2007. The song always makes me feel very nostalgic. The Snowman was impossible to avoid when I was growing up. Irn Bru’s twist on this classic Christmas tale really tickles me and plays to my sick sense of humour.’

Zoe Harkness, Head of Industry Programmes: ‘In my opinion, in recent years the best Christmas ad has usually been the one from John Lewis. My favourite is ‘The Snowman’ by adam&eveDDB, partly because it’s a simple but compelling idea about the lengths someone will go to to choose the right present for their loved one and partly because ‘The Power of Love’ (by Frankie Goes To Hollywood) is one of my all-time favourite songs that never fails to move me.’

Simon Tunstill, Head of Communications: ‘Pedigree’s ‘Muddy Dog’. It’s a brilliant idea, simply executed and a great example of an ad delivering a punchline. You see a filthy dog eyeing up a pristine white-sheeted bed. He then leaps on it and starts shaking the muck off his fur. He snuffles into the sheets. He really means it. There is no music, just the revolting sound of wet dog gyrating. He splatters the family picture by the side of the bed. Sheets wrecked he stops and we get the strapline: ‘Pedigree Christmas Treats. If you forget, they’ll remember.’’

Feel free to reveal your favourite ad in the comments. Don’t be shy. It would be Rudolph you not to. For inspiration, you can watch this gallery of Christmas TV ads past and present.

Nothing beats TV when it comes to capturing hearts, minds and shopping decisions – and Christmas is a crucial time for many businesses to try and do just that. The standard and success of Christmas TV advertising has reached impressive heights in recent years, so I’m looking forward to seeing what brands will come up with this year. And then it is just 10 months before Tomek starts dressing as an elf again.

Feeling the effectiveness

Last night, the great and the good from the world of advertising congregated in black ties and beautiful dresses to celebrate the most important thing in our industry: ads featuring dogs effectiveness.

For it was IPA Effectiveness Awards night. Thinkbox has proudly sponsored these awards for a decade now – it was one of the first partnerships we struck after we were set up. Cut us in two and, like sticks of rock, we have ads featuring dogs effectiveness running through us. Nothing is more important in advertising. Creative awards are lovely to win (and are usually a sign of effectiveness – as shown here) but the IPA Effectiveness Awards stand head and shoulders above all other gongs. Because if advertising doesn’t actually work, we may as well all pack up and do something else.

But it does work – and how. The 35 winners (9 gold, 13 silver and 13 bronze) unveiled last night all deserve both our acclaim and our gratitude. Our acclaim because they are shining examples of advertising at its best; our gratitude because their commitment to proving how their advertising worked adds to the IPA’s already impressive database of effectiveness case studies. This database is an invaluable resource and has borne bounteous fruit, including seminal effectiveness studies such as ‘Marketing in the era of accountability’ and ‘Advertising effectiveness: the long and short of it’ (both authored by the ‘godfathers of effectiveness’ Les Binet and Peter Field).

You can see all the winners here but I will single out just two for special mention: Foster’s / adam&eveDDB for scooping the Grand Prix with their brilliant TV-led campaign which delivered £32 of revenue for every £1 invested; and Grey London for their anointment as Effectiveness Company of the Year.

It would be remiss of me not to also mention that TV advertising was a winner on the night, featuring in 29 of the 35 winners’ campaigns – the most appearances of any medium – and thus backing up the Himalayas of evidence proving TV’s effectiveness and the wonderful effects it has on other media within an integrated campaign.

And, if you would like to wade a little deeper into the world of IPA Effectiveness Awards, then you could do worse than to watch this marvelous film we made with the IPA in which Marie Oldham explores the power of emotion. Or you could  watch this film we made with the IPA exploring some of the great client-agency relationships and famous success stories from the Awards. It features a galaxy of stars: Peter Field, Sir John Hegarty, Laurence Green, Phil Rumbol, Andy Nairn, Jon Goldstone, Danny Brooke-Taylor, Jane Holding, Craig Inglis, David Golding, Ben Priest, Richard Exon, Breda Bubear, and Mark Roalfe. They would be a very effective use of your time.

 

 

 

That’s a RaP

You may not think I have a lot in common with Busta Rhymes, but I do. You see, we’re both rappers. Different types of rapper, of course; Busta is a top selling recording artist known for his intricate rapping technique; I work in the Research and Planning team (aka RaP team) at Thinkbox.

The similarities don’t end there. Another thing Busta and I have in common is our passion for spreadsheets*. I’m not one to brag, but I suspect I’m a little more advanced than Busta in this department. (*There is no actual evidence of this.)

In fact, I thought I’d tell you about one of our most valuable spreadsheets. I can sense your heart pounding just that little bit faster…

You may or may not be aware that we have a Research and Planning (RaP) helpdesk and we log every question we get asked in something we’ve imaginatively named the RaP Request Log (you can reach us via research@thinkbox.tv or planning@thinkbox.tv or on 020 7630 2320).

There are many ways to measure the health of TV advertising – investment is at a record high, there’s more and more proof of how it builds brands, tech companies are dashing into the TV space to try and get a slice of the action. The RaP Request Log is less headline grabbing than these admittedly, but nonetheless it can shed some light on how TV is faring and what people are interested in.

The types of requests or questions we get asked are hugely varied; from agency planners wanting to know their burst from their drip to advertisers wanting to get to grips with all of the latest TV innovations or, more broadly, asking for evidence of TVs effectiveness. So let’s do what rappers do best and break it down …

2014 has been a record year for RaP requests, up 130% so far on the same period last year
That’s 600 enquiries to date, which equates to around 3 a day.

Over half of requests come from media agencies
That probably isn’t surprising. We also get enquiries from advertisers, broadcasters, and students too. And sometimes members of the public  get in touch with requests. These include people who want to buy a Rabbit or get their dog in our ad, someone who wanted to buy some dairy products from us but couldn’t find out how, and a chap who wanted us to use a certain song in a TV ad in the hope the songwriter would become famous and fall in love with him (genuine requests).

26% of RaP requests are people asking for more information on our research
This year, the studies which have generated the most interest are ‘Payback 4: pathways to profit’ and ‘Screen Life: TV in demand’, the second in our Screen Life series. We launched the third installment last week, which you can devour here.

Planning and buying requests are next
TV planning and buying requests come a close second to research with 22% of our requests specifically about the nuts and bolts of TV campaigns. Of these planning and buying requests, 26% are from new to TV advertisers, which is another good sign of telly’s health.

On the case…study
There is also a significant demand for case studies showing TV at work, predominantly for examples of sponsorship and interactive advertising, such as campaigns that include interactive elements like second screen apps or campaigns that drive WOM online. To give you an example, we might point people towards the brilliant Playstation case study, which won the Grand Prix award at our Thinkbox TV Planning Awards earlier this year. If you haven’t seen it, why not take a look.

So that’s that. A quick glimpse into what people are after. The great thing about all of the questions logged on our RaP request log is that they provide us with insights that help us steer what we focus on and (hopefully) to improve our service, whether that’s helping to shape upcoming research projects or developing our Thinkbox training sessions (which you can find out about here). Every request is (RaP) music to our ears.

 

 

YouTube puts its money where its mouth isn’t

I’ve started a YouTube channel where I post videos of me talking about my pony, which sadly died. Yes, I’m vlogging a dead horse.

Sorry.

Vlogging is a word I still haven’t come to terms with. It is one of several modern portmanteaus that rub me up the wrong way. Vlogging (video + blogging) lives alongside normcore (normal + hardcore), glocal (global + local), labradoodle (labrador + poodle), and twerking (twisting + jerking). If someone was to set up a vlog in which they dressed in normcore while glocally twerking and walking a labradoodle I would probably throw up.

When I was young, I had Smash Hits and its pop stars. My daughters’ generations have pop stars too but now it isn’t just about music. The most popular vloggers – the likes of Zoella and Alfie Deyes (who together are Zalfie – don’t pretend you didn’t know that) – are a new breed of pop star. Video hasn’t killed the radio star and it never will, but we do now have some video stars. Some vloggers attract large followings and, like traditional pop stars, then gain wider exposure in more established mass media like radio, newspapers and TV.

Vlogging still feels like rather a niche word, but soon it may well be on everyone’s lips because YouTube is launching a mass media ad campaign to showcase some of its more popular vloggers (Zoella, Vice News and Slow Mo Guys). TV is central to this campaign with 30 second spots in primetime TV shows, including X Factor.

YouTube is to be congratulated on its decision to start advertising on TV. Obviously I’m pleased, but they are also following in the footsteps of many advertisers who have looked at the evidence we now have and made the informed decision to invest in what is proven to pay back.

However, the rationale YouTube gives for going on telly is a strange one:

“We are trying to show that broadcast TV is not the only route you can go down to reach large audiences and engaged, passionate groups of consumers around almost any niche of content. Irrespective of your brand or the topics you want to talk about, we are able to find it on YouTube.”

If you’re trying to prove YouTube does what broadcast TV does, why bother with broadcast TV? Aren’t you sort of admitting TV does things YouTube can’t? If the claim is true, you would just have to advertise on YouTube to get your point across. QED.

This is the latest in YouTube’s complicated and unresolved relationship with TV. In the early days, it kept saying TV was dead and YouTube was the future. Then, in 2009, it launched a marketing campaign promoting the fact it was home to some proper TV content (with the line ‘YouTube’s got TV’). Then it launched its own ‘channels’. Then a couple of years ago Eric Schmidt said YouTube had ‘displaced’ TV (we were so gob-smacked at the gall of this we blogged about it to put the claim in context). And now YouTube is advertising on TV to tell people they are an alternative to TV.

There’s isn’t a clear logic to this love/hate relationship so who knows what YouTube’s next move as regards TV will be. Maybe a broadcast TV channel?

 

Autumn-atons

We’re a diverse bunch at Thinkbox, but one of the things we definitely all have in common is that we rather like watching TV. If someone in an interview for Thinkbox said ‘I don’t watch TV, just not a big fan; I just like looking at Facebook and watching traffic’ then alarm bells would ring. Eyebrows would rise. It’s likely they’re lying, but even more likely they aren’t really us. We love Facebook and traffic too – and obviously we would follow employment law scrupulously – but no likey TV, probably no fitty inny at, er, Thinkboxy (will stop that now).

This week saw the first day of autumn. We spend all year excited about TV, but there are few times in the year when we are more excited about what is beaming from our screens than autumn, because autumn means telly, lashings and lashings of wonderful new telly. We’re autumn-atons.

Of course there’s new telly throughout the year, but autumn is special. It is Upfronts season, which means truckloads of high quality, must-watch shows are just around the corner. Advertisers should be as excited as us too because the incredibly effective, high quality content environment they are investing in gets a massive shot in the arm.

So, here are some of the things we’re particularly excited about – some new, some ongoing. We’ve asked the team to name one or two shows that will be gluing them to the couch. Feel free to add yours in the comments. I know you probably won’t but it would be rude not to ask.

Akeel Mungul, Web Manager… ‘For me it’s The Newsroom on Sky Atlantic. I love the way the writers use real life stories and recent global events (like the hacking scandal or the Arab Spring) and then show the struggle this news organisation has when they try and report the news with no political agenda. Also the awesomely entertaining Crackanory on Dave and the mind-blowing Dynamo Magician Impossible on Watch – the guy’s a freak of nature and I love the way he has fused magic with music.’

Neil Mortensen, Research and Planning Director…’I have a lorra lorra love for Cilla on ITV, obvs the show is quality and Sheridan Smith is amazeballs but I have also enjoyed spotting buildings and scenes in Liverpool – reminds me of my mum and dad and home (they went to the cavern when they were young to see her). And my son Harry and I love 50 ways to kill your mammy on Sky 1. Baz the presenter is a long time Irish TV star but not known over here. He has a real twinkle in his eye. His 701 year old Irish mum is amazing as she gets into more and more daredevil activities like skydiving and snake charming etc. Importantly the relationship between the two of them is unfolding before our eyes and that emotion and chemistry makes for TV gold.’

Visha Naul, Marketing Manager…’I’m over the moon that Boardwalk Empire on Sky Atlantic is back for series five… great fashion, great drama and the production blows me away – much like what happens to lots of the characters. And I’m glad to see Channel 4’s Gogglebox is returning to our screens. Is it sad that I’ve genuinely missed the families and their telly chat? Yes, probably.’

Simon Tunstill, Head of Communications…’I have an increasingly unhealthy addiction to Diners, Drive-ins and Dives on Food Network. I love it when peroxide-spiked, professional sunglasses wearer Guy Fieri takes me to ‘flavour town’. I don’t want to leave. When he eats a burger or taco he especially likes he often says ‘and that’s all she wrote’. I have no idea what he means but I want to start using it. The Strictly line-up has potential for cringe, class and comedy this year and I missed Veep so will be heading to Sky Go to catch up – everything Armando Iannucci has done thus far in his life has been a masterclass. And Channel 4 News –doesn’t excite me especially but I watch it every day.’

Tess Alps, Chair… ‘I watch pretty much everything on Sky Arts 2 – you should watch its recent excellent Rameau documentary on catch-up – but I am especially looking forward to the Benjamin Britten season in November. Then there’s the second series of Channel 4’s wonderfully weird and fruity Toast of London – ‘I hear you, Clem Fandango’. Also, like millions of others, Broadchurch on ITV. If it is even a fraction as brilliant as the first series then it will be fantastic. Olivia Colman is possibly my favourite thing in the world. David Tennant is ok too I suppose.’

Amanda Sweeney, Directors’ PA… ‘It has to be Bad Bridesmaid on ITV2. It is beyond hilarious watching the reactions of the other bridesmaids when the ‘imposter’ tries her best to stir the waters and create drama!’

Leila Travis, Head of Planning… ‘Autumn is my favourite season and the show which signals it is here for me is Bake Off. I love that the show is so quintessentially British, I love Mel and Sue with their infectious chemistry, and I also love the fact it gives me an excuse to eat ridiculous amounts of cake every Wednesday evening.’

Sam Holtmon, Web & Multimedia Executive… ‘I’ve been looking forward to The Leftovers on Sky Atlantic. It’s an intriguing show about the state of the world three years after a global “Rapture”, which caused the disappearance of 2% of the world’s population. The co-creator of Lost is behind it, so I expect to be thrilled, baffled, and questioning the very fabric of existence. My normal way of unwinding. And Homeland on Channel 4: I’m drawn to the relationship between the unstable but brilliant Carrie Mathison and her calm, unreadable boss Saul. Season 4 sees Carrie venturing into Islamabad and Kabul and I expect explosive action, fiendish backstabbing, and plenty of contemplative beard-stroking from Saul.’

Lucy Vandi, Directors’ PA…’Fake tans, weaves and love triangles make ITV2’s – soon to be ITVbe’s –The Only Way is Essex my Sunday and Wednesday evening must watch.  It’s highly addictive and completely outrageous leaving me gasping for air on a roller coaster ride of tantrums, tears and pure unadulterated DRAMA!’

Tomek Lasocki, Planning Executive… ‘ITV’s Downton Abbey: it is like a countdown towards Christmas, which I love, and the Christmas special – a show that I can sit down and enjoy with my mother who watches it religiously and probably thinks of herself as Lady Grantham at home. Downton means we can spend time together and enjoy a programme together. I am also a snob and this fulfils the desire to surround myself with fellow snobs.’

Zoe Harkness (until very recently, Zoe Fuller), Head of Industry Programmes… ‘Grantchester on ITV looked really good when I saw a clip at the ITV Upfronts. I thought James Norton was great in Happy Valley earlier this year but think he is better suited to playing a vicar than the disgusting character he was in that. And the Champions League football on ITV and Sky Sports is a must watch in our house (even though my team isn’t in it!)’

And, finally, me…obviously I agree with all that, plus I must mention Adventure Time on Cartoon Network: a fairly innocuous title for a weirdy dungeons and dragons cartoon series that my daughter is obsessed by and seems to fill up my planner quicker than you can say “Marceline the Vampire Queen”. Educating the East End on Channel 4 is just fantastic, fantastic telly.  My family has a cast iron agreement that we HAVE to watch it together so I’m in big trouble if I have an industry function on a Thursday night. And, finally, The Keith Lemon Sketch Show for ITV2: “Big fat Gypsy Kardashians” is funny before you’ve seen anything.

 

Why Apple’s Tim Cook is wrong about TV

It has been a while since someone at the top of a big global tech firm has said something ridiculous about TV. Thankfully, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook has noticed this and taken one for the team by claiming TV is ‘stuck back in the 70s’.

Ignoring the breath-taking pace of change in TV technology in recent years and perhaps sensing there was too much balanced and informed discussion about TV, he said this:

“TV is one of those things, that if we’re really honest, it’s stuck back in the 70s. When you go into your living room to watch your TV, or wherever it might be, it almost feels like you’re rewinding the clock and you’ve entered a time capsule and you’re going backwards. The interface is terrible… You watch things when they come on, unless you remember to record them.”

Leaving aside the fact that Mr Cook appears not to have heard of on demand TV, let’s actually think about the 1970s for a moment. Back then, the furniture in my living room faced an analogue black and white TV set with a tiny screen and a huge arse, all of 3 channels to choose from, a dodgy signal when the weather was bad, no epg, no ability to record TV and we had to stand up and walk over to the set to change channels.

Today, my living room furniture – like most people’s – faces a large HD flatscreen TV with superb sound and 100s of channels to choose from. It is 100% digital and connected to a computerised hard drive (in my case Sky, but you can choose from Virgin Media, Freeview, Freesat, TalkTalk, BT TV…) that gives me unprecedented control over what I watch. I also have the ability to watch all sorts of TV content on other devices – largely delivered by the internet – or interact with the main set via other connected devices.

I’d say that’s quite a bit of change.

Of course, lots of things haven’t changed since the 1970s. For example, despite the enormous amount of technological development and new things we can spend our precious time with, people continue to spend far more of their leisure time watching TV than doing anything else; the vast majority of it live. It’s as true now as it was when I was worshipping Donny Osmond. So rather than assuming this is ‘stuck’, isn’t it better to ask why this might be? Maybe TV has a timeless quality that people like.

Are books stuck in the 1800s? Is cinema stuck in the 1950s? Is radio languishing in the inter-war years? No. The core way people enjoy all these things, and TV, has remained the same whilst technology has improved the experience. Mr Cook is missing the point, unless human behaviour is also stuck in the 1970s.

People get TV wrong when they allow their excitement about the potential of technology to eclipse their understanding of the fundamentals of human behaviour. TV is at its heart a social, communal activity. People generally like to watch it at the same time as other people because it’s more fun that way. It offers unrivalled simple, easy enjoyment. What people want is great quality content and the choice of how and when to watch. They have that now. They certainly didn’t have it in the 1970s.

Everything can be improved – few companies are better at improving things than Apple and I’d be very interested to see what they might do with the TV set – but this just sounds like yet another technologist thinking that more and more functionality will make TV viewers happier. Yet the only clamour for this change seems to be coming from tech companies who assume that the only thing people want is what they’re selling.

It isn’t about TV being stuck, it is about the fact that tech giants from Google to Microsoft have woken up to the fact that watching TV remains hugely popular and is extremely resilient. Everybody wants to be the gatekeeper in TV to cream off some of the value created by the people who invest in content and Apple is no different.

Fair weather is not TV’s friend

It was January 1989, I was 9 years old and it was cold (the average temperature that January was 5.8 degrees Celsius). Playing with my Christmas presents – the ThunderCats ‘Cat’s Lair’ I think – I had no idea that miles away there was a mysterious organisation called BARB and that it was publishing an analysis of how the weather affects television viewing (it was titled ‘How the weather affects television viewing’ - you’ll need to subscribe to Warc to read it I’m afraid).

Little did I know back then the role that BARB would come to play in my life. For now I research TV and with all the marvellous weather we’ve been enjoying recently, I thought another look at how – to borrow a phrase – the weather affects television viewing might be interesting. Especially given how much TV has evolved over the last three decades.

Good weather is good news for our tans but not so for our telly. For when the sun is shining people – not unreasonably I admit – stay indoors less and so watch less TV. Ofcom also noted this in its recent Communications Market Report. Thankfully though people can take telly with them outdoors these days, but we don’t yet have figures to show if sunshine leads to more mobile TV viewing. I would guess it might.

But we do have figures to show that sunshine leads to less TV set viewing, and the fact that this year has seen such lovely weather is one of the reasons why linear TV viewing has been a bit lower. The chart below plots average monthly temperatures against TV viewing:
TV and average temperatures

As you can see, there’s a pretty clear relationship, although I offer this with a caveat as Thinkbox is always at great pains to point out the distinction between correlation and causality. We know umbrellas don’t cause rain, but there is a strong correlation between their use and it raining. This chart is a correlation, although common sense suggests that watching less TV doesn’t make it warmer, whereas it being warmer might make you watch less TV.

Of course the weather is not the only thing that influences how much linear TV we watch; there are many other factors which affect it, such as digital switchover and the host of new channels it gave people, which increased it, and on-demand viewing, which is probably replacing a tiny bit of it.

And there is also another form of climate which has an influence: the economic climate. Last month, GfK NOP’s UK Consumer Confidence Index nudged into a positive figure for the first time in nine years. Things are on the up and this is obviously fantastic news for the nation and fantastic news for advertisers as they are advertising to audiences who are better equipped to spend. But it isn’t such fantastic news for TV viewing levels because when people have more money in their pockets they go out more. In the mood for charts, I created this one plotting consumer confidence with TV viewing:

TV and consumer confidence

People watch TV for many reasons: to share experiences, to be entertained, to learn and to connect with the world. However it is worth remembering TV broadcasters can make the highest quality, most entertaining programmes, and viewers can invest in incredible kit that makes the TV viewing experience extraordinary, but if the weather’s nice and you have money in your pocket you are likely to go out more and watch a bit less TV. That’s just life. Although, let’s not get too worried if people watch a little less TV a day; TV remains by far the medium people want to spend the most time with whatever the weather – half our media day according to the latest IPA Touchpoints data. So let’s finish with that chart:

Touchpoints media day 2014

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