Just what is television?

Thinkbox, defender of commercial television, has been, well, defending the medium. In doing so, Tess Alps, chief executive of the TV marketing body, raises some interesting points on the definition of television.

Jo Roberts

Alps was responding after Marketing Week reported in one news story that commercial television is on the rise year-on-year, while another article looking at online video in the same week, mentioned television viewing figures are falling.

So Marketing Week has decided to open the debate and ask: Just what exactly is television? And perhaps more importantly, are advertisers thinking about television in the same way as you do?

When you talk about television as a whole, should online video count as television? Is content on the internet television? Is content on mobile phones still TV?

Lots of questions there to think about but conversations Marketing Week has had with marketers and advertisers suggest that both advertisers and consumers view content across these platforms very differently.

Alps argues that we should not think about TV being “in competition” with the internet, but some broadcasters vying for advertisers’ cash might see the internet as competition, especially when budgets are being shifted from one medium to another.

For example, in our 30 July issue, Will Harris, marketing director of Nokia, talked of how there had been a “leaking of [his] budget” away from above-the-line ads to digital channels. He went further and called this “massively positive” in his view.

If we turn our attention to the issue of television viewing ratings for a minute, there are also many conflicting figures that can be used to argue that television viewing figures are going up, or going down. Again, it all depends how you define TV.

According to BARB figures in a Thinkbox press release, issued to the media last week, commercial broadcast television viewing had a record six months of 2009. The average UK viewer watched 16.7 hours of commercial TV a week, up 9.9 minutes a week compared with the same period last year.

But at the same time, the BBC is losing viewers with its share falling (source BARB), despite the fact the Beeb’s channel portfolio has increased over the years to include BBC3 and BBC News 24.

Thinkbox itself points out that total broadcast television viewing in the first half of the year was 26.2 hours a week, in line with the same period last year.

Alps asks: “Could Marketing Week please decide if it agrees with all the evidence that normal broadcast TV viewing is in good health or not?” Well, if you count normal broadcast television as the BBC and commercial, the figures are mixed.

It also depends on how one defines normal broadcast television. BARB figures show that live terrestrial television viewing figures are declining.

For example, in 2008 live television viewing accounted for 85% of all television viewing, but this is predicted to fall steadily.

By 2018, BARB predicts that live home viewing will only account for 66% of all television viewing. Nobody is denying that this is still two-thirds of the market and will continue to be important to advertisers but telly-watching has changed, and will continue changing over the next decade, according to these predictions.

The introduction of digital television has meant that viewing figures have been spread in a thinner layer across a broad range of channels.

Many households have hundreds of shows to choose from at any one time, so the terrestrial channels have not been able to generate the same level of market share for quite some time.

Just looking at BARB’s share of total viewing figures will tell you that. ITV1’s viewing share in June 2009 amounts to 16.2%, while in 2000 it amounts to 29.5%, and in 1998, ITV had 31% market share. If you look at ‘other viewing’ from outside of commercial terrestrial television and the BBC, this has risen from 13% in 1998 to a rather healthy 42.2% in June 2009.

BARB is also looking at the future of television and its changing landscape. It readily admits that the way the population is watching telly is changing dramatically and it is looking at how data for this can be captured.

BARB is also looking at how television can be measured beyond the traditional television box. At the moment, its figures don’t take into consideration other mediums.

We can all hopefully agree that consumers love content. Content has not lost its appeal at all. We just consume it in a vastly different way than we did in 1980, or even in the early 2000s.

So just how shall we define TV going forward? Is it in the traditional sense, that black box (or flatscreen) in the living room; does it include content watched on mobiles; content online; or all of the above and more? And the most important question of all – how are advertisers and marketers defining television?

Marketing Week would love to know what people think. Join the debate and comment below.

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