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Lindsey Clay: 6 TV myths that need to be debunked

By Lindsey Clay

January 20, 2020 | 8 min read

It’s a new decade. Or is it? It depends on how you like your decades. Is the old one finished or is that not until the end of 2020? 'Who cares you pedantic twat, Clay?' you might ask.


Six TV myths to debunk

Fair enough, but 2020 is certainly a good moment to reflect. And why not reflect on some of the myriad myths about TV and TV advertising that still swirl about in industry discourse?

So, here is a handy guide of what to say when people accidentally regurgitate nonsense about TV….

Online advertising is better than TV

Let’s start with one of the oldest chestnuts (not quite as prevalent as it once was, true, but it still makes an appearance.) It should be enough to point out that tonnes of TV advertising is watched online – TV is online advertising. But, if that doesn’t work, pointing out that there is no such thing as online advertising to compare TV to can help. Online advertising is a fruit salad of many forms of marketing investment – including search, email and, the juiciest fruit of all, TV.

TV’s just about brand building

TV is certainly excellent at turning products into brands thanks to its scale and emotional connection with viewers. But TV is a marketer’s Swiss Army knife. Its brand-building blades are razor-sharp, but it has the magnifying glass, the corkscrew, and the tweezers too.

TV is increasingly sophisticated at the bottom end of the purchase funnel, delivering massive short-term impact and innovative data-led solutions (see below). In the first two weeks of a campaign, TV delivers an average of 23% of the media-driven sales, the most of any demand-generating media, according to econometric analysis by Gain Theory, Wavemaker and Mediacom. Only TV’s best mate, online search, does slightly more in the same amount of time. Look at the number of online brands on TV to see how much they value both its brand and activation qualities.

TV advertising is old fashioned

TV is 100% digital. You can watch it and advertise in and around it on any screen in every environment. And that advertising is transforming. I can’t think of many industries that are more vibrant or driving more change than TV advertising. As TV becomes a mass addressable medium, no other addressable video ad offering comes close. TV’s advanced advertising solutions are fuelled by willingly-given first-party data which can be data-matched with advertisers’ own customer data. TV can now surpass other online advertising for targeting, but in a high quality, proven brand-safe environment. And rich contextual tools are giving advertisers access to perfect programming environments: AI is being used to allow DIY retailers to access specific TV episodes where characters are redecorating, for example.

If you still think TV is old fashioned, then perhaps you’ve had too many Old Fashioneds.

TV advertising is pricey

This is all about cost vs. value. Buying a great car may seem pricey, but you get what you pay for. In fact, with TV, you actually get more than you pay for because advertisers only pay for the audience they have bought, but most TV viewing is shared so they get loads of extra viewers thrown in for free (and broad reach is what builds brands). The reverse is true in other online advertising btw; there, advertisers must pay for every exposure, whether they are in-target or not.

The truth is that TV has been incredible value for years. Look at the effectiveness evidence – it delivers 71% of total profit generated by advertising (on 54% of the spend), and it does so at the greatest efficiency (a profit ROI of £4.20), and for the least risk.

TV sometimes suffers because competitors seem cheaper. But there is often a huge gap between perception and reality. Take the respective cost of online video and TV advertising: online video accounts for just 4% of the time people spend watching video advertising yet gets 26% of all video ad spend. TV accounts for 95% of ad viewing but gets 70% of ad spend. Based on ad spend figures from the Advertising Association, the average cost across TV advertising (linear and BVOD) for 30 seconds is just over £6. For non-broadcaster online video, it goes up to £45.

So, the potentially brand unsafe, often small screen, often partially viewable world of online video costs advertisers 7 times more than TV. And that is just the cost – the quantity – it doesn’t consider the vast differences in the quality of the ad exposures, nor the relative effectiveness.

Netflix is replacing TV

Netflix is TV, it just doesn’t offer advertising (yet) or live viewing (yet).

No one can doubt the incredible rise of the subscription streamers, though. But, equally, no one should underestimate the resilience and popularity of the broadcasters. In the UK, Subscription VOD (SVOD) accounts for around 10% of video viewing in total. Broadcaster TV is two thirds of it.

Even the biggest Netflix fans also watch plenty of broadcaster TV – they just love TV generally. And studies by Ofcom and MTM agree that UK broadcasters have a distinct competitive advantage over the global SVOD services because of their expertise in the British content that Brits love.

It might be worth Netflix considering adding a live TV string to its bow as that is part of what drives so much broadcaster viewing. There are needs that watching TV/video satisfies, but some needs are better served by on-demand, some by live TV. For example, on-demand is brilliant for losing ourselves in other worlds. Think Game of Thrones. But on-demand can’t satisfy all the things live TV does, especially our more social/communal needs, which are so important. Think The Great British Bake Off, I’m a Celebrity... Get Me Our of Here, or live sport.

Young people don’t watch TV

Yes, Love Island is horribly unpopular, isn’t it? Hardly makes a dent on the front pages.

The fact is that young people do not watch as much linear TV as they once did. But don’t judge their attitude towards TV on just that. That would be like judging Serena Williams by her incredible backhand alone or David Attenborough just by his coverage of penguins. There’s a lot more to it.

Watching TV makes up well over half of 16 - 34 year-old's video diet, most of it is broadcaster TV, and most of that is watching linear TV. But because an increasing amount of it isn’t linear viewing is why it is now essential that we plan TV advertising across all TV. No advertiser bases performance on high street sales alone; TV shouldn’t be treated any differently.

TV is only for big brands

They often end up big, but they don’t always start that way – over 1,000 advertisers on TV in 2018 spent less than £50k (2019 data isn’t in yet, but the story will be the same). And TV creates the majority of smaller businesses’ advertising-generated sales, some 80% according to Data2Decisions’ client data.

TV supercharges smaller businesses because it creates new customers, which is what needs to happen once the effects of online activation plateau. TV rapidly drives sales, dramatically grows the customer base, increases trust, and creates fame.

The dawn of advanced TV advertising means getting on TV is becoming ever easier for advertisers of all sizes. From Sky’s AdSmart – which has encouraged more than 1,000 businesses to use TV for the first time – to the range of opportunities on the ITV Hub and All4, and funding initiatives such as UKTV Ventures, TV’s increasing flexibility means it is available to businesses of all sizes. They just need to be ready to grow.

Lindsey Clay is the chief executive officer of Thinkbox.

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