Resisting the rise of the pvr

Online DVD rental company LoveFilm is on the hunt for agencies to handle its first television ad campaign (MW last week). It is perhaps a little ironic that a company whose very business might be perceived to be a threat to TV advertising – as

Marketers are concerned about the impact of personal video recorders on TV advertising, but their uptake remains slow and research shows that PVR viewers still recall, and sometimes look for, ads

Online DVD rental company LoveFilm is on the hunt for agencies to handle its first television ad campaign (MW last week). It is perhaps a little ironic that a company whose very business might be perceived to be a threat to TV advertising – as viewers consume content without consuming advertising – is itself seeking to communicate with consumers via the medium.

The advent of the personal video recorder (PVR) has caused a stir in marketing. Increased consumer control over the traditional advertising medium of choice will have significant implications for both media planning and creative execution. Marketers are asking how much impact PVRs will have, and how they need to adjust to combat negative effects of time-shifting and fast-forwarding and whether television is still a viable advertising medium.

Ad avoidance has existed since TV was first invented – it came in the guise of making tea or popping to the loo. The concern with PVRs is that they make ad avoidance easier, potentially, and more prevalent than ever before. Are these concerns justified?

Research into this dilemma has focused on three key areas which may provide an insight into the scale of the issue. These are: PVR penetration (the number of households owning a PVR), the amount of pre-recorded, time-shifted viewing in those households, and the amount of ad-skipping when programmes are pre-recorded.

Confusingly, many different figures exist for current penetration levels and future estimates vary wildly. However, it is clear that PVR penetration levels are not rising as fast as many people had expected. Most TV programmes are still viewed live and, while a lot of ad-skipping does take place when shows are recorded, not all ads are skipped, indeed some viewers stop to watch particular ads which grab their attention.

BARB’s April 2006 UK Television Outlook estimates that just 10% to 20% of viewing in UK PVR households is time-shifted, and this proportion is not expected to change radically. This means that even as PVR usage increases, TV advertisers will still penetrate PVR homes.

Even taking a relatively aggressive set of assumptions that PVR penetration will reach 40% by 2010, 25% of viewing will be pre-recorded and that 80% of advertising will be skipped, less than 10% of potential exposure will be lost.

Research by Millward Brown adds two new perspectives. A survey in March with US broadcasters ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC shows no difference in ad recall and recognition between PVR owners and non-owners for ads aired during prime time. The survey was conducted online among 2,000 respondents between 48 and 72 hours after the ads aired to allow time to watch recorded programmes.

Among the PVR owners surveyed, 61% of prime-time viewing was live; programmes were recorded and viewed later just 39% of the time. The US study measured TV ad recall and recognition across multiple brands in four categories â cars, mobile phones, fast food and film. The findings were consistent across the four categories.

This research suggests consumers who own PVRs are more likely to pay attention to television during commercial breaks when viewing live, and are less likely to be distracted by other activities than non-PVR owners.

Millward Brown also conducted research to help TV advertisers understand the creative and media planning implications of PVRs. The research was conducted in both the UK and US among more than 5,000 consumers, and looked at 59 ads. The research confirmed that a lot of ad skipping does take place, and that more PVR owners (37%) than DVD recorder owners (27%) skip ads all the time. However, it is clear that the majority of respondents still watch some of the ads, some of the time. This research also shows that 17% respondents say they would be very likely to stop and play an ad and 21% very likely to use the remote control to access interactive services.

The range of response across ads was wide – likelihood to stop and watch varied from 2% to 30%. Millward Brown conducted a qualitative assessment of the 59 ads tested to understand which factors were making some ads more “PVR-resistant”.

The assessment found the likelihood of stopping to watch a specific ad is strongly influenced by having an interest in the brand and product category. This suggests that high-interest products and categories will have an innate advantage in a PVR world. Fortunately for other brands, however, the findings also suggest that enjoyable ads have the ability to stop people from fast-forwarding, over-riding the effects of low category and brand interest. Viewers are also more likely to both skip and stop-and-watch an ad if they have seen a similar ad in the campaign before.

The media challenge in this environment will be to expose people in a live viewing situation before the ad is viewed in fast-forward mode, to ensure single ad exposures are limited, and that the reach of multiple, complementary ads is optimised.

PVR usage will slowly change the nature of TV viewing for some people, some of the time. But there is little doubt that for TV advertising to be successful in the future, advertisers and agencies will have to become more sophisticated when it comes to developing and targeting creative ideas to maximise its effectiveness.

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