Tag Archives: BARB

Advertising’s dirty laundry

This week’s story that the NPA (Newspaper Publishers’ Association) has served notice on the NRS (National Readership Survey) shows just how contentious and traumatic it is ensuring that our media research systems keep up with the tide of technological development. Rumour has it that the rift has been caused by frustrations over the pace of reform. It’s hard for collaborative JICs to meet perfectly the agenda of each of their diverse stakeholders but it’s worth trying. I’m sure all parties involved regret that they are now effectively washing their dirty laundry in public. But at least they have their hands in the sink and I am sure it will all end up smelling of roses.

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Spot the difference – 1957 vs. now

The one thing that HRH Queen Elizabeth II is probably most proud of in her now diamond-encrusted reign is, of course, the development of British TV over her reign into the world-class industry it is today.  Her coronation was the prompt for many British families to invest in their first TV set, so they could gather round and squint at tiny TV screens that the average tablet would now put to shame.  Three years of set growth later, and the jewel in HRH’s TV crown, commercial TV, was born in 1955.  She must be thrilled at how well it has performed since then.

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Most irritating things in media: ‘Wastage’. No. 5 in an occasional series

As a household committed to recycling – at least in spirit – most of the Alps’ waste ends up on our compost heap or in collectable crates.  So not actually wastage at all.

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Ofcom’s ‘most missed’ media misses the point

Which would you miss most: your iPod, iTunes or music itself? Let’s say you are only allowed to take one with you to a desert island. Stupid question right?

Today, you may have read about a survey by the usually very helpful and insightful Ofcom. It asked a similar sort of question. It found that young people say they are more likely to miss mobile phones or ‘the internet’ above TV. This is the first time TV has not come top of Ofcom’s most missed for younger people (it is still top overall). Inevitably, this has been seized upon by some as a worrying sign for TV. Read more on Ofcom’s ‘most missed’ media misses the point…

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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4 hours a day could be peak time for TV (or it could not)

In case you’ve missed it – and, if you have, it’s here – we’re now watching over 4 hours of live, linear TV a day. This is the most since records began. This really is remarkable and is worth taking a moment to consider.

There are many reasons for linear TV’s pretty spectacular performance (in one year it has increased, on average, by 2 hours a week per viewer). The take-up of new TV technologies like DTRs; on-demand TV services – which we now know lead people back to watching linear TV; the economic and weather climates; the new measurement system introduced by BARB in January last year…and of course fantastic TV shows.

The press releases Thinkbox issues on a quarterly basis announcing the BARB figures have been rather similar for the last couple of years. Every one announced that live, linear viewing has increased on the same period the year before. The good news for TV was getting predictable. The only real difference between the announcements was the new evidence that was constantly emerging about how technologies and activities that people predicted might harm live viewing were in fact strengthening it.

Now however, it is not quite so predictable, so we’re making a prediction: live, linear TV viewing could well have reached its peak. We fully expect to issue a press release in the not too distant future announcing that linear TV viewing levels have either stayed the same or, perhaps, dipped a little from their current record high.

When this inevitably does happen, please don’t be alarmed or tempted to start reheating decline of TV narratives (interesting blog from Ad Contrarian on that topic here). Linear TV viewing has to stabilise at some time; we’re never going to get to 25 hours a day.

But remember that, alongside our daily dose of 4 hours linear TV, we’re also consuming extra helpings of on-demand TV via devices other than our TV sets (BARB estimates there is an additional 1% of TV viewed via other devices).

TV is now a solar system, not a single planet, and it is expanding as a whole.

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Now then, now then

Jimmy Saville, among his many gifts, was acutely aware of how time slips away from us, perpetually moving us from now… to then.  Hence his catchphrase, which was, I’m sure, a profound comment on the nature of existence itself rather than the irritating and patronising tic that some would have us believe.

Either way, Sir Jewellery draws our attention to the importance of ‘nowness’. It would be nice if you commented on this blog once you’ve finished it, but if you don’t do it now, then I suspect you never will, because the moment will have gone. Now will have become then.

‘Nowness’ is one of the reasons that watching TV as it is broadcast is so compelling.  The latest figures from BARB for the first half of 2010 show that time spent watching linear broadcast TV viewing has increased again. Even in those homes with digital recorders, the percentage of their viewing to ‘live’ linear TV has increased slightly to 86.3% from 83.7%.  Of the 13.7% that is time-shifted, over 80% happens with 7 days and a whopping 38.3% is VOSDAL (viewed on the same day as live).  I didn’t just make up that VOSDAL acronym by the way; it is an official BARB descriptor.  BARB doesn’t even publish any viewing past 7 days’ shifting or include it in TV numbers.

Let’s be honest, we all know that the longer something sits on our planner the less and less likely it is to get viewed.  I’ve got an episode of Gardeners’ World from this March, all about planting a wild flower meadow, waiting for me.  I wouldn’t like to bet on its chances of being viewed before meadow planting season comes round again.

On-demand TV services also show the magnetic force of the schedule with over 50% of catch-up viewing in Virgin homes taking place within a day of the  original programme being aired.  In fact, many normal people call on-demand TV players ‘catch-up’ TV because that is the overwhelming motivation for using them.  They are trying to get back to watching ‘now’.  Even if you choose to never watch linear TV, the schedule will be the biggest influence over what you watch on-demand.

Nowness – and attempts to either get ahead of it or catch-up with it – is why sneak previews are popular, why live music events are booming, why we want to see the latest cinema release the first weekend, why Peter Mandelson’s memoirs so boosted The Times circulation (although the supporting TV campaign had more than a little to do with it). It is also, sadly, a motivation behind the piracy that robs media companies – and creative people along with them – of some of their income.  And that’s why actual live ‘live’ TV is even more attractive – the talent shows, the sport, the news – and not just because we might want to interact or participate.  

It’s about the conversations. Twitter and Facebook updates are emblematic of our desire to connect in real time and share our experience of now.  As such, they are a brilliant window into the fact that, even for the fancy media and advertising types that I follow, ‘now’ includes watching a lot of telly.  ‘Social TV’ is the trendy phrase to use; it’s making watching TV as it’s broadcast even more magnetic.  

Broadcast TV is a real time event that sucks people into its stream, that’s shared with our families, that’s talked about in the moment as well as the next day round the watercoolers and coffee machines.  This was true back when Jim was trying not to drop cigar ash on his shell suit; the internet is just making it even easier to enjoy TV ‘now’.

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Most irritating things in media: ‘Interruption’. No. 4 in an occasional series

Right then.  So far, we’ve had a dig at digital, a pop at passive, and blown a long raspberry at long-form video; it’s time now to get irate because of the way we obsess about ‘interruption’ in our industry.

This is a quote from Dr Samuel Johnson (the real one, not the even-more-amusing @DrSamuelJohnson on Twitter) in 1759 from The Idler:

“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 pathetick.” (I’m guessing that ‘pathetic’ doesn’t mean crap but more pathos-provoking).

It’s interesting that even 250 years ago there were apparently too many ads, but even more so is that he identified the need to ‘cut through’ the noise with magnificence and eloquence and emotion; surely still three ingredients of all good  brand communication.

In a way, Johnson was also talking about the notion of interruption. Interruption in advertising, we are so often told, is a bad thing. Johnson’s contemporaries may have been captured by it, but sophisticated, empowered consumers do not want to have commercial messages thrust at them; they need to be engaged by modern brands and to start conversations with them.

I’m not going to argue that engagement isn’t key and that conversations with consumers aren’t a great ambition for a brand to have.  But I do believe that you can’t expect people to ’pull’ a brand until it has ‘pushed’ in some way; you can’t have a conversation until you’ve been introduced.

There is a myriad of ways a brand can choose from to push themselves in front of people for the first time – including retail facings, PR, doordrops, posters etc. etc. – but all involve occupying either a consumer’s space or time. But, without making that overture on their own terms, brands would be entirely subject to random and commoditised searching, which is no way to be the guardian of a brand.

All brand communications are essentially a form of interruption but some have greater potential for annoyance: the inserts that drop out of a mag, a pop-up, branding on a public venue, unsolicited mail, whether off- or online.  None of those are ever expected and rarely reward the space and time that they occupy.  Print, online and outdoor ads are arguably much less annoying but perhaps only because they are more easily edited out or ignored.

Is this an unresolvable conundrum? Is it simply impossible for a brand to create impact and get noticed without being a pain?  

Broadcast ads are a slightly different case I’d argue; radio and TV ads are not unexpected, at least not on commercial channels. I would argue they are not even interruption because, with a few exceptions, the content they appear within is constructed specially to contain them. Like the doors and windows of a house, they are part of the overall design and are in-built, not rammed in.  It doesn’t stop them from being annoying on occasions though.

There will always be a vocal minority who avoid all advertising per se, be it TV, radio, banners, pop-ups or posters. There will always be some who reach for their remote when the TV ads appear (although we know from BARB that people are watching more TV ads at normal speed than ever before at a time when many have intuitive technologies that enable them to avoid them should they really wish).

But lots of people enjoy lots of TV ads a lot. Lots of them. We’ve plenty of footage of them doing just that: dancing, clapping, salivating, singing, searching, smiling, reciting the dialogue. They don’t mind being interrupted if we make it worth their while (cf. Bill Bernbach). In fact the word interruption wouldn’t even occur to them unless the ad was bad. Even the less entertaining ads are welcome if they are relevant, timely and tell viewers something they want to know (e.g. 10% off tomorrow).
 
Even when ads are not welcomed with unbridled joy, many of our research projects have revealed that most people understand and accept the implicit commercial contract whereby advertising subsidises the programmes they love. This contract is reinforced when broadcasters make their content more accessible and convenient.

How many ‘conversations’ with brands would we all have to have in order to reach even a tenth of the audience reached by the 2.45 billion TV ads seen every day in the UK? There are around 7,800 brands advertising on TV, divide that by the population and, even if each of us had conversations with 10 brands, the average brand would only have around 70,000 ‘friends’ and precious little opportunity to influence the other 53 million members of the population.

Engagement has to start somewhere. Few brands can sit around waiting for consumers to come along and engage with what they’re up to. The problem is not a structural one but qualitative and tonal.  As Martin Boase said, so long as brands interrupt with grace and charm they will become welcome guests in the nation’s living rooms, and ones who might be invited into other areas of people’s lives too.   Let’s stop worrying about the interruption part and start obsessing instead on the engagement.

 

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What are we reaching for?

I attended the Mediatel ‘Future of Online’ seminar recently, where much was made of the launch of UKOM, the online industry’s attempt to get a measure of exposure and reach with the aim of attracting more brand display revenues. It has been a tortured process.

Now, this may seem strange, given that TV achieves levels of reach that other media channels can only dream about, but I think we need to think beyond exposure and reach in terms of planning integrated media campaigns.

Yes, I know that commercial TV delivers nearly three quarters of the UK population every day and well over 90% every week, across the vast majority of target demographics, but comparisons with other media based on such data disguise the real impact each medium creates. This camouflage comes from the media measurement systems themselves.

All of the main metrics – reach, frequency, impacts, impressions, ratings – are based on the concept of opportunity to see/listen/read, and yet the difference between opportunity and delivery will vary hugely depending on the media measurement vehicle.

TV measures the audience in the room whilst the set is on, minute by minute, so that we can be confident that all of those featured in the measurement will have had some exposure, even if they had their backs to the screen – especially as BARB carries out coincidental checks to make sure who is reported to be in the room at any moment in time is in fact present.

Press readership, meanwhile, is based on anybody who has spent at least two minutes reading or looking at any printed copy in the past 12 months, whether or not they even opened the page on which the ad appears; consequently, actual exposure to the ad itself requires a much greater leap of faith.

My understanding is that online ‘reach’ will fall somewhere between these two extremes. My point is that, when these reach numbers are placed in a media plan, they are generally considered to be equivalent in value and impact.

Results from a really interesting study by the Television Bureau of Canada helps to put some of this disparity, or false equivalence, into perspective. They observed people watching TV, reading newspapers, listening to radio and interacting online in as natural a context as possible. They used a wide range of biometric and cognitive measures, including eye tracking, in order to determine how long each ad was ‘processed’. On average, the TV advertising generated more than three times the engagement of radio ads (and, possibly connected with this finding, almost three times the next day adjusted recall levels). TV ads achieved 40% more next day recall and 80% more engagement than online video (via pre-rolls). TV delivered five times the next day recall and twelve times the visual attention of online display in general. Against press, meanwhile, TV achieved more than five times the total advertising engagement.

The problem with the media measurement vehicles is that they cannot account for these differences in engagement, attention or recall, and so if an overall reach figure is achieved from a mix of media channels, it will treat them all as equal. There is nothing quite like a spreadsheet for providing the appearance of consistency and equivalence, however what happens in the lives of the consumers they reach, and the brands advertising in those media, will provide a very different story.

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BARB comments

Three momentous things began on Friday 1 January 2010: a new decade, a World Cup year, and a brand new BARB contract. Days very rarely get bigger than that for me.

So, BARB has changed – what it does and who is doing it – and the thought of this originally filled me with fear, not joy. I have been closely involved in monitoring previous changes to BARB supply and still wake up screaming with memories of being drowned in computer printouts during the interminable ‘parallel runs’, when the old and new services were run simultaneously in order to pick up any major inconsistencies in the data.

Happily, those nightmares should now become a thing of the past and I will sleep as contentedly as Simon Cowell, as data processing provides the analysis far more effectively (and paper-free!). More importantly, the consistency of data between the two panels this time round has been nothing short of remarkable,

If you think about it, a totally new panel of viewers, with several significant changes in methodology (e.g. panel controls, data collection hardware, calculation procedures etc.) and a new supplier structure offered the potential for massive disruption in the TV industry’s trading currency. And yet, if we look at the data being produced by the new panel, the differences are both minimal and explainable. During the parallel run, daily viewing patterns, reach, channel shares and live vs. timeshift viewing levels were impressively similar. Now that we are beyond the parallel run and into the new panel’s full reporting phase, the consistency has continued and the continued rise in viewing can be related to the extreme weather conditions (totally consistent with the increases we saw during the snowfalls of Feb 09).

And, in addition to fantastic consistency, the new panel and contract terms mean we will be able to start measuring on-demand TV viewing in the home soon, with the possibility of measuring TV on other devices at a later stage.

Efficient trading of TV airtime is reliant on an audience currency which is both accurate and consistent. Whenever a new panel is introduced, both of these attributes are placed under severe threat. I’ve even known MDs of broadcasters who have lost their jobs because they failed to predict the levels of change! So, we should applaud not only the BARB executive and their shareholders, but both the previous and the new teams of suppliers who have obviously excelled themselves over the years in producing data that is both reliable AND accurate.

We have often boasted of having the best audience research system in the world here in the UK, and at times like this such claims are really put to the test. The frustration for BARB and their suppliers is that they only come under the spotlight when things go wrong; rather like boiling a kettle or taking a Tube.  Having experienced plenty of failures from other services during the first weeks of 2010, I feel we should place the spotlight on BARB’s quiet success; one service that didn’t falter.  Not only does it reinforce our faith in the data (massively important for any currency) but it also provides us with one less headache following the new year celebrations!

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