Background noise muffles rising TV impacts

Tess%20AlpsFor a sector that is being hit hard by revised advertising budgets, commercial TV has something to smile about: industry data shows more people are watching ads than before.

And media regulator Ofcom’s annual communications report shows that the amount of time people spend watching television through their sets has declined only slightly in the past five years.

However, some suggest it is not all good news for advertisers. They say that in a world where multi-tasking is increasingly the norm, TV – and by extension television advertising – is becoming background noise.

Thinkbox, the commercial TV marketing body, last week published the data from the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board, covering the first six months of 2008. It shows that total impacts were up 6% on the same period a year earlier, while there has been a 15% growth in commercial impacts over the past five years. Moreover, full-year impacts were at an all time high last year, up 3.6% on 2006.

The UK watched an average of 2.34 hours of commercial TV a day, and during January to June this year, the UK watched 2.4 billion broadcast TV ads a day – an average of 42 per person.

More viewers, better value

“Obviously for advertisers it’s amazing news. More impacts, more deflation – that’s better and better value,” says Thinkbox chief executive Tess Alps.

But one media executive questions the “quality” of viewing, with more people than ever switching on for “background noise, while surfing the internet”.

However, he concurs that commercial impacts, the value of one person watching one ad at normal speed, do provide a benchmark and that conditions are the same across the board. Furthermore, he suggests TV is “better value than it has been at any point in the past 20 years”.

Ofcom’s annual communications report also points to a buoyant TV medium, recording that on average people spent 218 minutes watching the box daily in 2007, up from 216 a year earlier and down just six minutes on 2002. It too paints a picture of multi-tasking – people either surfing the internet, texting or talking as they watch TV or listen to the radio, and highlights the fact that 16 to 24 year olds looked at their TV sets for about 150 minutes a day each last year, an hour less than the average and ten minutes less than five years ago.

Referencing Ofcom’s report, Microsoft Advertising head of marketing Alex Marks concurs that television is increasing in popularity, particularly over new and emerging platforms. However, he believes some of it is indeed background noise, and points to the “huge” increase in the number of commercial messages seen by consumers over recent years.

Alps says that multi-tasking is nothing new, a point also raised by Marks. “Far from being worried about it, it is a massive opportunity,” says Alps.

“People have always done other things while consuming media, such as listening to the radio as they drive, or reading the newspaper while watching TV. And the laptop is very much more, it is an adjunct to the entertainment process. There are at least as many positives as negatives.”

Ad skipping in perspective

Furthermore, according to Ofcom’s survey, the majority of people (88%) said that when they use their digital television recorders, such as Sky Plus boxes, they use them to fast-forward through ads. “Everyone does it [skip ads] some of the time,” acknowledges Alps.

“The important thing is that only 17% of viewing is time-shifted. And people watch 14% more TV when they have these machines,” she adds.

With the rise of new technologies and busier lifestyles there are those who argue that television does not have the impact it once did, but for a medium hit by the economic downturn, record commercial impacts offer a glimmer of hope through the gloom.

Catherine Turner

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