Extra minutage requires a cautious approach

Before jumping aboard the extra minutage bandwagon, we should take time to consider all the pros and cons and test the theoretical benefits properly before setting changes in stone. By Simon Mathews. Simon Mathews is managing director of Optim

The Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, the trade press and conference bars are singing the same hymn: extra minutage on terrestrial TV. We now have an average of seven-and-a-half minutes per hour in peak, but marketing and media folk would like to see eight to nine minutes.

This is an understandable reaction to some of the recent inflation figures from ITV that continue to dwarf RPI and the real world benchmarks by which clients expand advertising investment.

Minutage and inflation have become inextricably linked as a quick fix in everybody’s vocabulary.

So should we have more minutage? The calculations are hard to dispute. TV prices could be reduced by up to 12 per cent. Many clients tell me we should and, as a media man, I’m bound to agree. In the opposing corner, there are those who lament the proliferation of advertising. They eschew cost reduction for the value of effective communication.

But I’m concerned about the clarity of our thinking. Recent inflation has been primarily driven by audience (product) under-delivery. Inflation driven by increased advertising expenditure is somewhat easier to stomach and a true market force. So, asking for more of an underperforming product seems to be mildly masochistic.

Marketers and media companies have a right to expect performance from the TV stations, so shouldn’t we keep the pressure focused on viewing levels rather than letting them off the inflationary hook? If we don’t address the root cause we’ll only have a temporary solution. A far more constructive response by TV companies and media operations would be to move away from station average price – a mechanism that forces advertisers to pay more for the shortfall in audiences. But we should do this only after a firm focus has been brought to bear on declining viewing figures.

A few media companies have cited the decline of ad awareness in other markets embracing more minutage. Others have suggested research to replicate and assess the effect of increased minutage. The problem is that there are too many variables for this last to be totally credible.

Perhaps it is timely to remind everyone that we have more minutage on Channel 5.

I am a bit sceptical about extra minutage. I think there are other ways to overcome unwarranted inflation. I believe all TV companies should keep inflation in check by improving their product. But does not extra minutage hinder this by cutting into important programme promotion time? I also have reservations about how it could damage effectiveness. The trouble is, I have no credible way of proving it.

Although extra minutage effectively reduces overheads it doesn’t really give advertisers more flexibility. Those who use the savings to buy the same ratings for less money will suffer a deterioration in share of voice (SOV). Thus expenditure is likely to be stable and the SOV status quo perpetuated. Who gains from that?

I end with a simple plea. Let’s not embark upon this as permanent change but as a year-long trial. If clients sense reduced awareness and sales from their advertising, and terrestrial TV suffers from the reduced programme promotional time, maybe we should turn the clock back. If clients continue to get a good return on investment at a lower cost we will know it is a change for the better.


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