Plus ça change…

A decade ends and an armada of navel-gazing features about the previous ten years is launched.

My Christmas TV viewing – when it wasn’t either David Tennant or a Big Fat Burp of the Year – seemed to consist of reviews of the best TV ads or programmes of the decade. The best 20 TV ads of the decade (all of which you can see here) give the lie to any suggestion that British advertising creativity isn’t what it was, with as many landmark ads as in any previous era.

If TV advertising’s quality is not in question, how about a quick look at some of the numbers; the decade has certainly played havoc with my statistics. Before Christmas, Thinkbox mined the data for the last 10 years to get an idea of how TV has changed for advertisers over the decade. Here are some concrete facts: (all BARB figures unless stated otherwise):

* Daily broadcast TV viewing has increased by 3 minutes since 2000 to 3.72 hours.
* Daily viewing of commercial TV has increased by over 5 minutes to 2.37 hours.
* Commercial TV now accounts for 63.6% of our TV viewing, up from 62.1% in 2000.
* We watch more TV ads at normal speed than ever before, up from 33 a day per person to 43 over the decade, adding up to a staggering 2.45 billion ads seen each day in total in the UK.
* In 2000, only 31.6% of households had multi-channel TV; now 90.7% have it as digital switchover approaches.
* In 2000 we had a choice of up to 252 channels; we now have 495, nearly double (source: Ofcom).
* The average household now has 2 TV sets, the same as in 2000 (1.96). However, other screens which once didn’t deliver TV now can: PCs, Macs, laptops and mobile phones.
* In 2000, High Definition TV didn’t exist; now 49% of households own an HD ready TV (source: Screen Digest) and around 10% subscribe to HD channels.
* In 2000, no one had a digital TV recorder. VHS reigned. Now, 39% of households have a DTR (such as Sky+ or Freeview+) and watch 17% more TV (and 2% more ads at normal speed) as a result. (sources: Ofcom, Screen Digest, Skyview).

And what about the next ten years for TV? I usually try to resist making predictions because one can only ever be wrong. In 2005, when I was still at PHD, I predicted at the Oxford Media Convention that TV commercial impacts would decline by 8% by 2010. This caused uproar – but only because everyone else there, including Ofcom, said that I was being hopelessly optimistic and complacent. I was wrong of course, but not in the way anticipated; impacts have increased by nearly 15% since 2005.

But the facts above do give me confidence to predict a few things:

We will be watching about 3.5 hours of TV a day in 2020.
In a decade of spectacular growth of internet use and capability, the fact that people of all ages dedicate as much time as they ever did to relaxing with their partner and family watching immersive TV entertainment tells us that this is something that is utterly fundamental to human society and is not going to go away. Different technologies might deliver some of it, but making time to watch telly together is a principle way of expressing relationships. That togetherness can now be expressed virtually too, with people talking online about what they are watching, making live linear viewing even more relevant and rewarding.

Place-shifting will increase TV viewing.
The vast majority want to watch TV on a gorgeous flat-screen TV set. But other devices are a fantastic convenience when you can’t get to one. TV viewing via mobile devices will grow but this viewing will be incremental to their in-home viewing. What it will displace is not existing TV viewing but whatever medium you would otherwise have been consuming at your desk or on a train.

Live viewing will remain dominant.
On-demand services are a wonderful way to catch-up with linear TV. But data from BARB showing the proximity of on-demand viewing to its original transmission in cable homes proves the overwhelming influence of the schedule; 50% of on-demand views are seen within a day, rapidly declining to only 2% after 5 days. You might choose never to watch linear TV again, but what you watch on-demand will be largely shaped by the schedule, if only because of cultural references and conversations. In today’s Guardian, Toby Syfret from Enders Analysis talked about this:

“From what we can see, there’s very little evidence people spend a huge amount of time digging stuff up from the archives. People want to watch what’s on now. In that respect, linear schedules – not something you need to burrow into your PC for – are a system that works incredibly well.”

TV advertising will remain a significant part of funding TV content.
TV advertising revenues have been overtaken by TV subscription revenues in recent years. People are more than happy to pay for the added enjoyment they get from extra choice and improved picture quality. But TV advertising is huge, and has even increased its share if total advertising slightly in the last two years. People love good TV ads and find them the most acceptable – and effective – form of advertising. What I hope the next ten years bring is an improved understanding of how TV drives online search and on- and offline purchases. With more TV with its own return path, viewers will be able to click directly on TV ads, thereby helping advertisers avoid search costs and enabling correct attribution of cause and effect.

Anyway, it’s all jolly exciting. Thinkbox will be doing its best to help you navigate your way through the changes – foreseen or not – in the TV landscape ahead.

Here’s to a happy and prosperous 2010.

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  • Jeremy Davies

    Tess, I don’t think anyone can claim with any credibility that people are not watching TV. The problem is that most of them are watching different things! Audience fragmentation remains the biggest challenge to TV advertising. With the exception of a few dead certs (soaps, live football, finals of various reality TV shows), TV doesn’t guarantee that mass audiences like it used to.

    If I’m a Marketing Director with a budget that needs to deliver more for less, then investing in outdoor ad campaign (bus stops, trains, the tube) that’s inevitably going to be seen by 80% of my target market at least 5 times, it does look rather more attractive than throwing the whole lot at a TV ad that’s going to go out on VIVA in the midst of a Two and a Half Men repeat which might reach 15% (who may well switch over to the Friends rerun on E4 during the break).


    Hello Jeremy,
    Delighted that you need no reassurance about total TV viewing; some people still do sadly.
    The fragmentation issue is fascinating because the positive consequences (more viewer choice/enjoyment, segmentation, low cost of entry) far outweigh any perceived negatives. And most of those perceived negatives usually melt away when we get a chance to explain what’s really happening.

    It’s odd that we expect TV to deliver its audience in one lump; you don’t get all your poster exposure from one site in Tottenham Court Road at precisely 10am, but from the aggregation of lots of sites and formats over time. Print reading aggregates over a day – or a month for magazines. Online exposure is built up individual by individual. Commercial TV’s daily reach is higher now than ever; 70% watch it every day and over 90% each week. 400 TVRs still deliver about 80% cover @ 5 average frequency – and they’d cost you considerably less than in the ’90s! The fact that 70% of people might have seen your ad the night before but within hundreds of different programmes does not diminish its effect one jot, and actually means that the context in which they viewed it was more suited to them. Different households might be taking advantage of different programmes (and different ways to view the same programmes) but they are still watching together within households on the sofa as much as they ever did.

    Exposure though is less important than effectiveness, and that’s where TV really scores. Today’s story about John Lewis’s great Christmas results were, I’m sure, helped in part by a wonderful TV campaign.

    ‘Fragmentation’ is certainly not going to disappear; quite the reverse in fact because TV comapnies are dedicating lots of effort and money into offering viewers a multitude of ways to watch the TV they love where and when suits them. It’s one genie that ain’t going back into the bottle and is just one aspect of the way TV is changing – and for the better. Would you like us to come and show you more research into this topic?

  • Jeremy Davies

    That would be very interesting Tess but seeing as I currently work for a Design agency it probably wouldn’t make much commercial sense. However, I do think it’s important that different disciplines understand their role in the overall mix – because every penny our clients spend on packaging needs to complement the pounds they spend on above the line ads (if you’ll pardon the gross over-simplification of marketing budget economics).


    I completely agree that we all need to appreciate how all marketing disciplines work together. We actively promote integration at Thinkbox, which is why we never ‘slag off’ other media, As long as you’re not based in the Outer Hebrides the offer stands though – or you might just like to mooch around the Thinkbox website some time…
    By the way, I really like Two and a Half Men, though Comedy Central (the channel it’s actually on) would explode with joy if they ever got anywhere near 15% of viewing!

  • Simon K

    I’d agree with all of your predictions, though it is debatable as to whether you will be able to conclusively and convincingly prove the first two


    Hello Simon,
    Well, by 2020, I’d be very disappointed if we couldn’t. The brand new BARB contract, which began so smoothly at the start of January, is now measuring all on-demand TV delivered to the TV set, whether IPTV (ie Virgin, BTVision) or open web TV (like, BBC iplayer, 4OD – and even 4OD via YouTube – etc etc). And BARB has stated its desire to develop the measurement of in-home TV viewing via other devices (PCs, Macs, mobiles etc) soon.
    As for out of home TV viewing, BARB doesn’t try to measure that but other studies do, notably the IPA’s Touchpoints, which records total TV viewing much higher than BARB partly because it captures the out of home stuff.
    Then there are all the other companies trying to get a fix on this like Comscore and Hitwise, though we should all be striving for one accepted industry standard and not encourage multiple sources to proliferate which is currently where online is. If you want to get a definitive number on time spent, say, on social media, you have to take your choice of about a dozen conflicting numbers, many with naked vested interest.