The PVR picture isn’t so bleak

There’s no doubt PVRs are bad news for advertisers, but research shows they have less effect on ads for high-interest goods, and that some strategies – such as sponsorship – can benefit from them

BARB’s recent decision to incorporate same-day video viewing into the overnight ratings figures (MW June 30) is a significant one – it demonstrates the importance that the television industry puts on devices such as personal video recorders. While penetration of PVRs into British homes is still relatively low, at just three per cent, they will soon be part of most people’s viewing hardware and will have a significant effect on viewing habits.

Recently Starcom carried out an investigation into the effects of PVRs on advertising awareness in the UK, as part of its Engagement Panel research programme (MW June 30). The impact of PVR ownership on advertising awareness has been quantified across 58 recent TV campaigns in 1,400 Sky Digital homes, half of which had Sky Plus.

Ad awareness was on average 17 per cent lower in Sky Plus homes than in those with Sky Digital. While a 17 per cent decline in awareness is clearly significant, it compares favourably to the 30 per cent differential in exposure levels found in Sky Plus households last year. The results indicate that TV advertising is much more resilient than had previously been anticipated.

The research shows that advertising awareness does not fall in proportion with exposure; because PVRs effectively reduce clutter, the TV ads that are seen are noticed more by the viewer and are therefore more likely to be recalled. Viewers aren’t turned off by TV advertising in general: in fact they tend to browse the content of ad breaks. The difference is that now they are able to control and limit when they do so. TV advertising is now about engagement and consumers will only give their time to ads that are relevant to them.

This could be bad news for advertisers operating in categories of perceived low interest or relevance. Starcom’s research indicates that awareness of brands in these categories is already suffering. Brands operating in lower-interest categories, such as groceries or household goods, experienced an average fall of 22 per cent compared with those in relatively high-interest categories, such as entertainment or alcohol, which had an average decline of just 13 per cent.

Nevertheless, Starcom’s research illustrates the effectiveness of one approach already widely adopted – programme sponsorship. Sponsorship awareness levels fell by only four per cent in Sky Plus homes in comparison to Sky Digital homes. This correlates with earlier Engagement Panel research which showed how PVR owners use sponsorship idents as a “navigation tool”, looking for the bumpers to know when to stop fast-forwarding through the break.

Yet, by far the greatest influence on minimising falls in advertising awareness was channel strategy. The research shows that those brands which concentrate their campaigns on Channel 4 and multi-channel experience much lower-than-average falls in awareness – 11 per cent for the heaviest Channel 4 advertisers and seven per cent for the heaviest multi-channel advertisers. This is largely because the number of channels watched tends to increase with Sky Plus ownership – Sky Plus viewers tend to be more programme-centric and so watch programmes across a wider range of channels.

Although ITV1 is important to drive overall levels of awareness, this is the first hard evidence that the premium advertisers pay to advertise on ITV1 may not be sustainable.

The research also shows that two other variables – length of execution and genre of programme – have little effect. Awareness levels for advertisers airing longer ads are not significantly higher, putting paid to the suggestion that these ads are more likely to be recognised on fast- forward.

The research also found there is no significant awareness difference of brands that advertise around programme genres that are likely to be recorded, such as films and drama, and those that advertise around genres likely to be viewed live (sport, music and news, for instance). This is partly because it is very rare for a programming strategy to have more than 40 per cent of its impacts in any one genre, and also because even though some genres have a propensity to be recorded, it is by no means exclusive – there will always be a large number of those types of programmes that are still seen live.

While it is important not to overestimate the threat of PVRs to TV advertising, this research shows they do have a significant negative effect on ad awareness – although much less than previously expected. Starcom’s research also shows there is some potential for the advertisers – greater share of the “consumer mind” and the growing power of sponsorship.

Trends is edited by Nathalie Kilby, Nigel Foote, managing partner at Starcom EMEA, contributed.

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