Media Future of TV

How do you solve a problem like... captive TV audiences no longer being captive?


By Sam Bradley | Senior Reporter

April 27, 2021 | 12 min read

Each week, we ask readers of The Drum – from brands, agencies and everything in between – for their advice on real problems facing today’s marketing practitioners.

With vaccination drives making progress in the US and UK, and summer weather offering consumers distractions away from their living rooms, the high viewing figures we’ve seen for TV – both streaming and linear – are likely to dip.

This moment will provide an opportunity to find out whether more telly-watching has become a permanent habit or not for viewers, but it also poses a question to advertisers and brands using TV to reach the public: how do media equations change when consumers have somewhere else to go?


If viewers leave TV behind over the summer, how will advertisers and planners adapt?

How do you solve a problem like... captive TV audiences no longer being captive?


Neil Godber, joint head of planning, Wunderman Thompson

What did brands do before lockdown when everyone was forced into binge-watching Schitt’s Creek and scouring the guides and endless subscriptions for shows to watch?

If you were reliant on established media (I hate ‘traditional’, ‘established’ and ‘emerging’) to engage a wide range of consumers, and used more immersive longer-form sound and visual content when they are in a semi-passive social mode, then you can probably just continue your reach via broadcast and VOD.

While that’s possible, it feels like a shorter-term plan. If audiences are walking away and you believe in the power of mass media, consider anchoring your brand to programming they actively love, such as sport or the Saturday night moments. Do something more active than basic sponsorship to generate fame, then couple it with a more progressive behavioral plan from the bottom up, to quickly build more direct, useful or even inspiring relationships with people. Set the stage, then invite them on.

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Jean-Daniel Germain, global client president, Dentsu International

Video audiences are a mix of three factors: time spent, content quality and attention level. With lockdowns, time spent at home went up, content quality eroded with reruns, and cross-screen attention improved with less clutter.

Looking to a world re-opened, time spent at home will remain high as we enter the ’hybrid workplace’. Content will make a comeback with Hollywood productions straight to screens. Attention will peak with global and major events such as the Olympic Games bringing us all together. Brands and planners should ensure strategies are focused and not distracted by the hype that the emergence from lockdown brings. Make sure media plans are built with rich consumer data at the core, and use attention as your key goal, regardless of the platform.

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Vinny Rinaldi, head of investment and activation, Wavemaker

Eyeballs are shifting, and our perspective is to be screen agnostic and brand favorable as we share our brand’s messaging with consumers. Context is more important than ever and while people might spend less time binging television content, they’re now spending more time with their devices than ever before.

We see the shift from video consumption to a more diverse ecosystem as a positive and we’re taking a data-first approach that will position our brands across all channels and devices better than ever before. Video content has never been more valuable and, as we approach the new planning year, upfronts more than ever have become a dominant force.

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Emma Hargreaves, head of customer success at Kantar

British people’s love for telly shouldn’t be underestimated but where, how and what we watch will shift as lockdown eases and we edge into summer. The long-anticipated return of live sport offers up powerful advertising opportunities, whether we’re watching at home or in pub gardens.

Being able to see friends and family out will probably mean a resurgence of catch-up viewing as opposed to live broadcast. So there’s still a chance to reach TV audiences, but brands need to adapt their plans to mirror evolving behavior. As ever, cross-medium strategies informed by a solid understanding of consumer habits and motivations are vital. Businesses should also revisit out-of-home ads as many people celebrate their newfound freedoms with money in their pockets.

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Emma Morris, head of investment and managing partner, Starcom

Don’t panic! Linear TV consumption will of course shift compared to 2020 as viewing levels return to pre-pandemic consumption. Consolidated TV viewing data since the opening of non-essential shops highlights this. When looking at April 12-15 2021 v the same period in 2020, it’s clear that the period from 6am-5.29pm has experienced the most decline since non-essential retail has reopened (Source: BARB -33.8% All Individuals). In comparison, total peak viewing has only reduced by 12%. This shouldn’t send shockwaves around the market as frankly the broadcasters have amazing content scheduled, with Love Island and the Euros returning to our screens to name just a few.

We do need to continue to constantly review consumption and adapt our AV plans to ensure that our campaigns reflect viewers' behavior at all times. Adapting the blends of linear v BVOD to flex with consumption habits is key, with All4 and SkyGo’s continued growth year-on-year being a great illustration of this. I don’t anticipate the recent changes to UK mobility to significantly shift this beyond pre-pandemic levels.

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Will Gough, AV partner, Carat UK

While growing TV audiences during the pandemic, and especially during lockdown, on the face of it may have seemed brilliant for TV, it masks the truth that lighter TV audiences have never been harder to reach.

As we move out of lockdown into the summer, viewing will take a hit; however, the declines in viewing will be among the heaviest TV viewers, and, while bad for ratings, it could improve coverage efficiencies for brands. As always, appoint-to-view TV will be essential for reaching lighter TV viewers – and what a summer we’ve got. England v Scotland in the Euros, Love Island returns and the Lions in South Africa. Maximize presence in those and similar events, and brands won’t go far wrong.


David McDiarmid, head of media at Digitas UK

Let’s be clear; TV is still here for the long term. Segments who have always watched TV will continue to do so, and a third wave slated for the fall could see the return of some restrictions. We’re already at the start of the summer, so if brands haven’t planned for a shift to lower TV numbers, they’ll need to move at speed. Dynamic VOD, content and native across mobile, with targeted assets reflective of geographies, environments and up-to-date cultural events over the summer, should be a core focus to connecting authentically with consumers. What people don’t want reminding of is the fact they’ve just spent a year under restrictions.

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Will Grundy, planning director, Adam&Eve DDB

Brands and planners should do what they’ve always done at their best: trade in ideas based on genuine understanding of human behavior, rather than executions based solely on one channel. The quicker we get our heads round that, the sooner we can get back to Line of Duty.

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Austin Scott, head of video market development, Xandr

Planners and brands have already been facing challenges in terms of reaching incremental audiences and managing frequency as audiences have shifted from linear television to video on demand. Data has now become even more critical in ensuring brands are reaching the right audiences.

Buyers and sellers are faced with the problem of converged analytics as linear and digital are on different systems and forecasting is complex. It’s therefore important for operators, MPVDs and media owners to work with partners who can help converge forecast reporting and planning. This will then help buyers know how to allocate budgets effectively.

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Hyun Lee-Miller, vice-president, media, Good Apple

Advanced video is the future of TV. Traditional TV consumption is expected to begin to decline again this year as consumers’ preference for video consumption shifts to digital and social platforms.

As lockdowns end, people will still be watching videos, but will shift back to on-the-go viewing: while commuting, at work, or while making TikToks with reunited friends and family. Captive audiences will be increasingly found on CTV/OTT and social platforms.

However, tentpole events are the exception – the Olympics, the NBA Finals and the US Open will capture the attention of those beyond the typical traditional TV audience.

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Rik Moore, head of insight, strategy and planning at The Kite Factory

Look at cost-efficient ways of driving incremental reach within your channel mix. BVOD is a great addition to linear TV. Recent Thinkbox analysis shows that two-thirds of BVOD viewing is consumed by the lightest half of linear TV viewers.

The phenomenal success of Line of Duty shows FOMO and the fear of the dreaded spoiler is keeping audiences engaged, and catching up whenever they can. With similar tentpole ‘appointment to view’ TV events like Love Island and the Euros returning this summer, there will be plenty of opportunity for planners to make connections in and around those properties.


Lucy Hinton, head of client operations, Flashtalking

Have TV audiences really been ‘captive’ during lockdown? With people dual or triple screening on mobiles and tablets while ‘watching’ TV, audiences have been distracted. And with content available on so many devices, audiences will still be consuming content, but now the consideration will be how to create cut-through and engage them while they’re on the move.

Advertisers will need to recognize this and adapt accordingly. Considering mobile-first campaigns and harnessing personalized messaging will allow them to keep pace with changing consumer behaviors and environments, and reach audiences with relevant ads.

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Kevin O’Sullivan, director, business development, EMEA at Amobee

While Covid-19 was the catalyst for massive growth in both linear and CTV viewership, expect to see TV viewership drop in the coming months, with Netflix’s Q1 growth numbers serving as a bellwether.

As vaccinations increase and restrictions lift, we expect retail, hospitality and travel industries to rebound. Advertisers who spent the last year redefining a TV-centric strategy should pivot toward a holistic understanding of their audience’s viewing habits across every screen.

The return of live sports and events will be an added boost for TV – albeit less measurable with people watching in group settings – and mobile OTT formats will spike as people consume TV content while commuting. Brands should also look to increase their investment into channels like DOOH, which has spent the last year innovating their offering.

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Chris Jefford, chief executive officer and co-founder, Truant

At the end of the day, an audience being incarcerated doesn't mean that they’ll give brands a blind bit of the attention that marketers crave; it doesn’t suddenly cure the problems that advertising has faced for years. Early on in lockdown, there was a backlash against the Zoom-y, mobile-y, shot-at-home stuff that was appearing from every brand on TV. Campaigns all looked exactly the same.

So the challenges regarding TV are as they always have been: understand how the world has changed; get your story in-step with audiences; be useful, interesting and entertaining; and don’t sleepwalk into doing what every other brand is doing.

Each week, we pick a new topic for discussion. Want to join in? Email me at to be included in future editions of this series.

From late April until early May, The Drum is taking a deep dive into what’s in store for the small screen as we launch our Future of TV hub.

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