Calm down dear, it’s only a commercial

Knickers are getting twisted again. The Rasputin-like myths around TV ad-skipping will not lie down and die. If ‘ad-skipping’ is a problem, how come we’re watching a record number of TV ads at normal speed in the UK (2.6 billion a day)? The answer is the bleeding obvious: ad-skipping is not such a problem.

But you wouldn’t know that if you listened to some of the commentary around recent developments in TV, namely the arrival of product placement in UK-originated programmes from next Monday; a recommendation by a House of Lords committee that the number of minutes of TV advertising should be reduced; and Ofcom’s announcement this week that terrestrial commercial television broadcasters will be allowed longer advert breaks during dramas.

We thought we had done a reasonable job explaining the (minimal) impact of digital recorders like Sky+ or Freeview+ on the number of ads being watched, but we were maybe a bit too optimistic. Some recent commentators have insisted on making a link between ad-skipping and changes to TV advertising, as though every change is some sort of reaction to ad-skipping. But there is no link.

What makes it all the more irritating is that the facts are so freely available, and not just from us, should anyone bother to check. Ad-skipping seems to be the one issue where commentators don’t feel they should check the facts; instead they rely on what they reckon might be happening based on what they and their circle are doing.

If anyone reading this has been asked to write an article, appear on a radio phone-in show or a 24 hour news channel on the subject of TV advertising and they suspect they might get asked about the topic of ad avoidance please, please ring us for an up-to-date briefing.

In the mean time, here, once more with feeling, are the facts:

* Linear TV viewing in the UK reached a record high in 2010 of over 4 hours a day per viewer on average. An additional 1%-2% is watched on-demand online.
* Commercial TV accounts for nearly two-thirds of viewing, so the viewing of ads – at normal speed – has never been higher.
* The average UK viewer watches 46 ads each a day at normal speed (and collectively the UK watches 2.6 billion a day).
* The number of TV ads watched is about 35% higher than in 1999 and 23% higher than 2005.
* Recorded viewing represents just 7.3% of all TV viewing. 92.7% of the TV watched in the UK cannot be fast-forwarded. Two-thirds of ads are fast-forwarded in recorded viewing, so overall 4.8% of ads are lost to ‘zipping’.
* In homes that own a digital recorder (48% according to Ofcom), recorded viewing is higher, but still only 14% (this has decreased from 16% two years ago).
* According to data from Sky+ households, when people get Sky+ they watch 17% more TV and, as a result, watch more ads than before they owned one.
* BARB does not count any ad unless it is viewed at normal speed, so those that are fast-forwarded are free to advertisers, though clearly there is value in seeing them.
* ‘Zapping’ ie switching channels at ad breaks has always been a way of avoiding ads but the minute by minute BARB measurement properly accounts for this so advertisers only pay for people watching their ad.
* Research by Thinkbox and others has shown that viewers invest in digital recorders because they enjoy watching TV and want to capture more of it, not because they militantly want to fast-forward the ads.
* Many people, of all ages, enjoy lots of TV ads and will go online after seeing them on TV and watch them again, recommend them to friends, comment about them on Twitter, or join a Facebook groups for them. Unsurprisingly, they like good ads a lot more than average ones (though even the average ones work and make brands famous ref our heading).

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  • Sam Mikkelsen

    You’re quite right Tess, and we can prove that people are viewing TV ads and reacting to them. I’ve seen so much data from our clients that backs this up!!

  • Don Damo

    Tess – Can I ask what your source is for these “facts”?
    Please say they’re not from BARB’s 1/5000th (0.0002%) of household’s TV viewing habits?

  • Ade Ebery

    I think this is a little unfair on BARB. It is an extremely effective piece of research when it comes to measuring things with a large number of observations, of which % time-shift is one. Also the same sort of numbers are observed from other credible sources such as SKY View (and a thousand other studies from around the world.)

    What’s really interesting is why this misconception drags on and on despite almost ten years of rock solid evidence to the contrary. It is probably due to people’s false perceptions of their own behaviors, rather than commentators being venal or lazy or confused.

    The evidence does feel counterintuitive to ones own experience but, as has endlessly been documented in the context of eye-witness statements being just plain wrong, our recall can be massively fallible.


    Not sure what your objections to BARB are Dan. If it’s because it’s a panel then you’re questioning the basis of almost all industry research from the JICs (NRS,Postar,Rajar etc) to UKOM and Touchpoints. Server data doesn’t work well for TV because it’s a shared medium ie one screen but many heads. BARB is the most sophicticated piece of research in the world and the IPA and ISBA are very happy that it paints a fair picture of TV viewing. If anything it undercounts TV viewing by about 6% (because of out-of-home and other device viewing). I think the panel is approx 0.02% of homes by the way (either use more zeros as you did or a % sign – not both).

  • Don Damo

    It’s necessarily just not the size of the panel used as a representation that bothers me Tess. Is more to do with viewing habits of the households that are being measure that I’m questioning. What percentage of the panel actually have the ability to fast forward the ads? And of those who will chose to do so when they are aware that every action is being monitored by a company providing figures for commercial viewing? Most people would act differently.

    However saying that, you can’t really say that BARB and RAJAR use the most accurate methodology available for measurement or indeed compare them to Postar who measure travel patterns for the population throughout the UK – not a small panel. Surely there are more accurate ways of measuring viewing / listening figures and habits in this digital world?

  • Macca

    I bumped into an manager at ITV the other day who proudly boasted that ‘most people who’ve got PVR’s don’t skip through the ads anyway’. I hope he didn’t use that in his presentation.

    Clearly ‘linear has legs’ and those writing off this form of TV – as they have been for about 10 years now – are misguided. In an age of choice where you have instant access to a multitude of entertainment – be it music, films, tv programmes or whatever – sometimes you just want someone to choose for you. WIth music I listen to web radio stations more than my own music as quite often I can’t be bothered to sift through the correct playlist, or choose an album to suit my mood. The same can be said of TV; i get home from work and more often than not I’ll watch scheduled TV versus on demand (whichever platform) becuase there’s that ease of access. It’s almost comforting, especially if it’s event TV that you know is on at a given time.

    That said, I can’t help but think that all these glowing stats in favour of the linear model only serve to pat on the back those tired execs at ITV (and the other terrestrial channels in particular) whose attitudes on the matter belong firmly in the ‘dinosaur’ category.

    As an example, look at how much revenue ITV has generated from it’s online properties in the last year. It’s tiny in comparison to their offline channels. With the content they have (don’t laugh, it’a valuable) this should be a key revenue generator for them. Yet until very recently they hadn’t even worked out a half decent model re: adding commercials to programmes played within ITV Player!


    Don, the BARB panel is properly balanced for all technology ownership including digital recorders. But even if you don’t trust that, you’ll see in the blog that looking at the stats *just* for those homes that do have digital recorders, only watch 14% of their viewing is time-shifted. That is a figure that can’t be ‘faked’ because it comes from the hardware itself.

    People of course fast-forward ads in time-shifted TV about 65% of the time, which means, Keith, that I can’t endorse the comment from the ITV person you mention if that is indeed what he said. Everyone who owns a DTR fast-forward sometimes, but they can only do this when watched recorded telly. This is the crucial figure.

    Keith, you really don’t need to worry about TV execs being complacent. Far from it. They are all very busy exploiting all the opportunities for TV on other platforms. If that revenue is small at the moment it’s because online TV is only about 1% of broadcast TV viewing but it will grow.