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Media Agency Leadership TikTok

Marketers respond to TV on TikTok: What territory can’t be taken by the apps?


By Sam Anderson | Network Editor

October 9, 2023 | 11 min read

Fresh off a week going deep on converging media, creative, and platforms, we ask marketers: will the apps continue gaining ground until there’s nothing left, or are there some things that don’t fit into a phone?

A lego man in front of a phone, showing a wall of apps, in a dreadful blur

Will media consumption contine to move app-ward? / Florian Schmetz via Unsplash

As much as it might perplex us, the numbers are clear: people are watching TV on TikTok. The top-scrolling short-form app is seeing millions of views not just of new media properties like podcasts and streams, but of clips from ‘proper’ TV shows new and old – Friends; Grey’s Anatomy. NBC’s streamer Peacock has even dabbled with uploading full episodes to the app.

Tiny-screen TV is, of course, no new phenomenon, but its continued growth is another chapter in the apps’ growing ambition to be everything to everyone (all at once).

What does all this mean? Is it another nail in the coffin of linear TV and cinema? Or are there things that TikTok, or X, or Instagram, will never be able to do? What areas of traditional media are safe from the apps’ onward march? Will most of us always prefer big screens for at least some of our media consumption? We asked nine smart media minds from The Drum Network.

Tim Walsh, UK head of strategy, Momentum Worldwide: “In today's ever-changing media landscape, it can feel like TikTok and Instagram are attempting to take over every corner of our attention. But let's not get carried away; there are aspects of traditional media that these digital upstarts simply can't replicate (yet).

“Is anyone going to watch Game of Thrones on a 6-inch screen and feel the same jaw-dropping awe as a whopping 65-inch masterpiece? Doubt it.

“Or take the age-old craft of storytelling, where historical epics and thought-provoking documentaries flourish. These narratives demand more than a fleeting scroll; they still require the canvas of traditional media to do their stories justice.

“Or live events, from sporting spectacles to breaking news. The adrenaline of being in the moment, unfiltered and unedited, is a sensation that apps can’t quite capture. Or the simple, tactile satisfaction of flipping through a well-loved book or magazine: a tangible connection that pixels can't quite replicate.

“While the apps keep on marching, there’ll always be cozy corners in the world of traditional media where discerning audiences can escape the bite-sized frenzy.”

Charlotte Willcocks, head of strategy, Impero: “I don’t think the apps will take over everything. Do I believe that the ecosystem or media universe we all spin around in will expand and retract? Yes! But absolute app anarchy: it shall not be. Lest we forget, Spotify marked the end of analog music as we know it, yet vinyl sales have increased every year for the last 17 years.

“Apps can serve new behaviors quicker than traditional media could dream of, but some experiences can’t be replicated or improved by technology or convenience. Could the only media to survive the app nuclear winter be experiential, cinema and OOH? God save us all.”

Alistair Parrington, chief solutions officer, organic social, Jellyfish: “We've seen this before. It brings to mind streaming platform Quibi's rapid rise and fall, which underscored that demand for longer-form content on small screens wasn't quite there. But behavior is ever-evolving, and TikTok has emerged as much more than a social platform; it’s the greatest ever content discovery tool. It’s inevitable that new IP will arise there. This evolving behavior, and Quibi's near-miss, are wake-up calls for industry giants.

“Netflix has already recognized that audiences access content on any available platform, including Xboxes and PS5s. Content consumption in the future will likely involve more active participation; Netflix has been diligently bolstering its gaming capabilities. It understands that staying ahead means more than just streaming shows; it involves allowing audiences to play them, and to continue the narratives of their favorite shows long after their season finale. It’s a dynamic shift that ensures streamers stay ahead of TikTok and social channels.”

Saskia Jury, senior client lead, True Digital: “You can feed people long-form content on TikTok, but people largely will only consume it when they’re bored, have some alone time, or need a distraction or to decompress (in bed, on the toilet, getting ready for work, or on a train).

“I've had the Barbie movie spoon-fed to me in little chunks on TikTok, but only when I’ve fallen into one of those three categories, and not the whole movie. But being an active participant in the event – at the cinema, with lots of friends, even dressing up as Barbie for Halloween – transforms spectators into participants. We then become part of a cultural moment. I don't think consuming long-form content on TikTok can create those zeitgeist-led phenomena on the same scale.”

Jamie Ross-Skinner, insights director, Tipi Group: “The battle isn’t ‘App versus TV’. Nor is it ‘digital versus traditional’ or even ‘big screen versus small screen’. The boundaries are all too blurred. 45% of all YouTube viewership now takes place on TVs. Netflix and Disney+ are in the list of Top UK iPhone Apps. A big laptop is 17 inches; a small TV is 24.

“The interesting battle, the one that really matters, is ‘alone versus together’.

“Together is better for advertisers looking to hit their marketing objectives, but if we zoom out, it’s also better for society. Communal cross-generational watching can be awkward, but it also stimulates vital debate.

“We live in an age of increased politico-societal fragmentation and loneliness, but great entertainment, whether it’s sport, film, or a high-quality series, can bring us together. That can only be a good thing.”

Michaela Florez, research and insights, Don’t be Shy: “TikTok is great for consuming ‘comfort food’ TV and movies, in two categories. First, content you’ve already seen, but are happy to rewatch for a quick dopamine hit (see: Paramount’s recent uploading of Mean Girls). And, second, content that adheres to such tried-and-tested tropes that orienting yourself is instant and easy (see: every reality and true-crime show).

“With TikTok’s current algorithm, only comfort food makes sense on the app. Longform content is broken into segments for uploading, and TikTok won’t automatically serve you those segments in order, unless you click through to the relevant account. A preexisting familiarity with the content (or its structure) is essential.

“Serve me a random scene from, say, Oppenheimer – which I’ve not yet seen – and I’m going to be lost and annoyed that I’ve had a key moment spoilered. That would be discomfort food.”

Alex Carapiet, head of social, Seed (part of the Amplify collective): “As a boy I vividly remember, eyes as wide as saucers, sitting in a dark cinema and being left slack-jawed by the gigantic spaceship in 'Independence Day' as it first moved across the screen. That moment wasn’t just about the movie; it was the shared gasps, and a room living the same heart-thumping moment together. That is an experience that apps like TikTok or Instagram will find tough to recreate, even with all their fancy features and super accessibility. There’s something magic about watching a film on a massive screen, surrounded by people all riding the same emotional rollercoaster. It’s the sheer scale, the collective ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahs,’ and the popcorn rustling in unison that apps, consumed solo on our pocket-sized screens, just can’t serve up. It’s not just watching; it’s living a moment, together, in a space where the story becomes bigger than us.”

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James Rigby, head of paid performance, Found:This is a battle of convenience v experience.

“Phones and apps are easy to use, instantly accessible, tailored to the owner, portable, private and require no diversion of attention. Any media that tries to compete head-on in one of these areas simply cannot win.

“But it’s not all doom and gloom for the non-app space. The ‘personal’ element of an app on your phone can be isolating. That’s where the opportunity lies.

“Non-app media needs to focus on its strengths and maximize the experiences that it offers consumers, beyond the metaphorical four walls of an app. The visual spectacle, the real-life sharing of moments and the potential for comprehensive immersion can’t be matched. Focusing on these areas should see them not just survive but thrive.

Andrea Maylor, influence business director, Ogilvy UK: “As a reality TV series obsessive, I regularly stream the latest drama on my phone during my commute. Why? Because I don’t want to miss a thing and ruin my week with a spoiler.

“However, a disjointed drop of content is not for me. In this, I seem to be an anomaly. TikTok’s impressive streaming figures and high-level, rich engagement show sporadic content formats tapping into TikTok users’ wanting for more and hoping the never-ending scroll will give them the next chapter they’re looking for.

“This is just the start of what is to come for TV and film viewing on social platforms. TikTok could maximize the power of nostalgia more, dropping TV and films of yesteryear to prompt opportunities for new, entertaining remakes.”

Media Agency Leadership TikTok

Content created with:

Ogilvy UK

Ogilvy is all about depth and breadth - we have London's broadest and deepest skillset in communications our award-winning teams work fluidly across our core capabilities Advertising Brand & Content, Experience, PR and Influence. And we have the UK's largest dedicated team of award-winning behavioural scientists in-house.

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