Archive for the ‘MediaTel’ Category

BACK TO EARTH AFTER PLANET IBC

October 16th, 2012

I’m currently sitting in Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, waiting for my flight back to London after a couple of fun days at the IBC Conference, mixing with the tech community. I’ve only ever attended IBC twice before – across twelve or so years – but it never ceases to amaze me by its scale (at least twelve exhibition halls and over fifty thousand attendees) and also its consistency in constantly claiming the death of everything in the wake of the great god Digital. It was only last year that one of IBC’s keynote speakers – ex Channel 4 Chairman Luke Johnson – was predicting the imminent demise of broadcast television.

Except this year felt a little different.

I had been invited to be part of the connected television debate. The motion was that “connected television will make traditional channels irrelevant”. You can guess which side of the debate I was asked to take!

My first instinct was that it was a set-up; surely –given all the evidence – nobody still believes in this death-obsessed replacement narrative any more, do they? Then I remembered it was IBC. Along with my debating team mates – John Honeycutt of Discovery Channels and Nigel Walley of Decipher – I prepared my arguments convinced it was a lost cause; I felt a bit like George Osborne before he presented the Paralympics medals.

But then a strange thing happened. Our session chairman asked for a show of hands before the debate got under way, to establish the benchmark opinion on the topic. To my amazement, far more hands went up to signify the traditional channels will maintain their position, about 3-4 times as many as those who thought the traditional channels would become irrelevant.

In true IBC tradition, we didn’t change many minds; when the post-debate show of hands was called for, almost exactly the same people voted for exactly the same propositions. However, when asked who gave the most convincing arguments, the vast majority voted for our team. I can honestly say, that was the first formal debate I’ve ever won in my life!

It was made easier by our opponents, who seemed to focus their argument on the hypothesis that everything is changing so of course the traditional channels must fall by the wayside, with no firm evidence to support their case, other than “the internet figures are going up all the time”. This is something I have been constantly frustrated by ever since I started to make a career out of defending television – the world of digital, despite being so data-rich, relies so much on this tired and redundant argument; X is growing so it must replace Y.  It has a similar feel to it to that famous paean to wishful thinking – “if we build it, they will come” – that infected so many new media business plans before the first dotcom crash.

Our surprising victory wasn’t an outlying blip, either. In all of the other sessions I attended, there was a tacit realisation that digital innovation will have to work within the existing eco-system, rather than as an alternative. TV didn’t appear to be seen as the great enemy any longer, but as a potential business opportunity that could best be realised by working with the main broadcast players rather than against them. And, as with most eco-systems, the whole will almost certainly be greater than the sum of the parts, and digital can be used to enhance rather than compete with ingrained, valued human experiences.

So, hats off to IBC and here’s to a future where the traditional will co-exist with the new and we can concentrate on growth rather than the battle for world domination. This may be the start of the process leading to such debates finally becoming irrelevant.

MEDIA REHAB

October 16th, 2012

They tried to make me go to (media) rehab, I said NO! NO! NO!

I have just returned home after a 3 week sojourn in a Turkish haven of tranquility, where I have spent time recovering from an addiction I never knew I had. Three whole weeks with scarcely a media touch point in sight (nor sound). It was tough, but once the withdrawal symptoms wore off, I was able to approach the real world with a renewed sense of engagement and a clearer perspective. Cold turkey in Turkey, in fact.

I should explain. My family and I stayed near a small fishing village, which has never seen an English language newspaper or magazine. The internet connection in our small resort complex was as unreliable as the local transport and the nearest bar to offer wi-fi was a 40 minute boat ride away. 3G connections were similarly unreliable, as well as ridiculously expensive. We had satellite TV in our apartment but apart from the news channels, it was exclusively foreign language programming. (Incidentally, why are specialist news channels the only English language services in international hotels and resorts, when the Italian, French and  German speakers can usually get their entertainment channels, such as  RAI, TF1, RTL and ZDF?)

Pretty much the whole resort gathered around the bar’s TV screen for Mo Farah’s 5,000 metre race, but it was interrupted on Turkish TV for the bronze medal tussle in the Greco-Roman wrestling – or, as my wife described it, two very large kittens fighting in a cat basket! – but otherwise the TV screen stayed reassuringly blank.

So, like my fellow media addicts, I spent the first week fretting about the dried-up supply chain (apparently, if you arose at 6.30 am and waved your laptop in the right direction, it was occasionally possible to get 20 minutes’ worth of Facebook) and talking wistfully of times past. We would laugh as the new arrivals to our therapy group would turn ashen-faced as they realised their laptops and ipads would remain unconnected and they would have to make the Weekend Guardian they bought on the way out last them the whole fortnight. And slowly, very slowly, we flushed away the need for constant updates and wall-to-wall entertainment media and found our true selves again. Real-life conversations, interactive fun (i.e. diving off the boat jetty) and savouring the simple things of life took over. The Sky EPG, Times leader column and Twitter trending became a dim and distant memory.

However, despite the eventual success of my enforced media rehab programme, it was obvious that the cycle of addiction was not completely broken; I would still find myself watching the BBC World news cycle several times over, wave my ipad in futile attempts to get a signal and re-read the Weekend Guardian’s travel section article on singles holidays in the Ukraine.

As always, it was harder on the little ones. When we asked our son;s teenage friend Jack if he was looking forward to going home later that day, he replied “well, yes and no”. When pressed, he admitted he would miss “all of this”, gesturing vaguely at the sun-soaked holiday paradise around him, but he then qualified his remark by saying he couldn’t wait to get back to his satellite TV and wi-fi connections. Plus ca change…

 

RESPONSE, BRAND-BUILDING & THE AD BREAK OF THE FUTURE

October 16th, 2012

 

If we ever stop to think about it, one of the most remarkable aspects of the digital revolution is how much people are prepared to sit through advertising, even though most of them now have the technology to edit all broadcast ads out of their lives. When TiVo first became a reality, it was naturally assumed that people would use it primarily as an ad avoidance device, almost obliterating the 30 second spot overnight.

Of course, that never happened, and even today DTRs actually contribute to more viewing to TV commercials at normal speed. Despite DTRs being in more than half of UK households now, commercial impacts have grown by almost 20% across the last five years.

This is the one element of the TV ‘story’ against which I get most bounce-back, even though there is now a torrent of consistent data to prove it is the case. Fundamentally, people are watching more TV ads than ever before despite the array of alternatives they have for avoiding them.

The strength of the broadcast schedule (people still usually look for what’s on now before they consult with their planners or players) and a sense of inertia help. Also, as we heard from the Thinkbox research last week, 2-screening is helping to improve engagement in the advertising, although it is still a minority activity. The big question is; will things stay this way?

I happen to believe that broadcasters – and agencies – will have to work harder in future to keep this audience. Their implicit agreement to remain present and tuned in to the commercial breaks has to be nurtured, because the range of options to find something else to do for that precious few minutes is increasing all the time.

That is why initiatives like Channel 4’s themed breaks and ‘event’ breaks like the Honda sky-dive are to be encouraged. These tend to create a sense of occasion, increase engagement and keep viewers tuned in. We need more of this sort of innovation than ever before, otherwise audiences will begin to drift off.

This could actually snowball quite quickly, because there is another consequence of 2-screening that has already had a huge impact on TV advertising. Online offers a brilliant response channel for TV advertising and the rise in tablets and smartphones are only going to make it more powerful and effective. The danger, from my perspective, is that response starts to take over, the ads become unwatchable (or the calls to action become more irritating) and the audience starts to flick over to that 3 minute YouTube compilation on their connected sets, before you can say “go to www….”.

It’s already started to happen in off-peak. I’ve seen breaks recently that are 100% response- every ad with an entreaty to call this number, visit this website, enter this competition with a simple text NOW! That will teach me to watch Jeremy Kyle.

Since TV became a point-of-sale medium, and its role in influencing online response was finally acknowledged, there has been a transformation in its fortunes. It achieved a record share of the advertising cake over the past two years. Much of the new money has come from the online industry itself, which is now edging towards 10% of total TV spend. It is estimated that two thirds of all TV ads have some form of call to action.

The big question is whether this is going to be instead of brand-building or in conjunction with it. It should be the latter – strong, creative branding has both a short-term impact on response but a much longer-term effect on profitability and price sensitivity. However, in times of recession, there is always a temptation to go for the former.

If it is the latter, and brands do invest in building the brands as well as creating response, TV companies are going to have to find ways of harvesting that response, and at the same time keeping those viewers engaged with the rest of the ad break. They will need to find ever more innovative ways to keep a restless audience entertained. That, I think, is achievable, if the ads themselves do their job.

If, however, TV becomes one big call to action, with all of the creative deficiencies that usually implies, then there may not be an audience around to respond.

WHY DO WE NEED BARB? SIGH!

October 16th, 2012

I was fortunate enough to attend Mediatel’s Media Playground last week and enjoyed the lively debates, especially around the new screen opportunities and the value of data. Unfortunately, I arrived late, and so the Screen panel session was already in full swing, and as the room was packed full of delegates, I had to sidle my way to one of the few vacant seats, right on the front row.

That wouldn’t have been too much of a problem except, not long after I sat down, the debate shifted to the perennial topic of why do we need BARB? Apparently, I sighed very audibly (thanks for pointing that out, Rhys!) which prompted a ripple of laughter.

As it happens, I was sighing because I’d just realised I’d left my mobile phone at home, but my opinions are apparently so well known that it was easily misconstrued: which is fair enough, because if I hadn’t been so pissed off about my iphone, I’m sure I would have sighed, if not wept tears of frustration. I’ve heard so much recently about BARB’s irrelevance to the digital media landscape of today that I feel I ought to add my voice to the case for its defence.

  1. BARB is an accepted currency. It is rare that we get the advertisers, agencies and media owners all in agreement, but the structure of BARB is such that they all have a stake in its development and implementation. A £3bn market needs a recognised currency, which is why the online industry is doing its best to replicate BARB via UKOM.

 

  1. BARB stands alone. One of the frustrations of online research and analytics is the plethora of data sources, meaning buyers and sellers can pick and mix the data that most suits them. It creates confusion, contention and conflict, rarely to the satisfaction of either party.

 

  1. BARB is constantly reviewed and quality controlled, so that the recruitment, measurement and analysis of the data is all conducted to the highest standards and the accuracy and consistency of the data is optimised. Having sat on more BARB committees and working parties than I care to remember (the Rim Weighting Working Party still gives me nightmares, twenty years on!) I can vouch for the huge amount of work that goes into ensuring the quality of the outputs.

 

  1. BARB is highly representative of the whole of the UK population, not just the online population – or worse, the tiny percentage of the population that decide to take part in online surveys.

 

  1. BARB measures people, not clicks. As such, it enables us to understand the profile of an audience, measure reach and frequency of campaigns and track individuals’ viewing over time; all hugely important for a display medium like television.

 

  1. BARB measures behaviour, not attitudes or estimates. The people meter methodology means respondents aren’t asked to recall their viewing or to record attitudes or perceptions; both of which are subject to inconsistencies and mistakes. It merely asks them to press a button whenever they enter or leave a room when the TV set is on (and BARB coincidental surveys indicate they do that accurately).

 

  1. BARB stands up to rigourous comparison with other respected data sources. For example, the IPA Touchpoints survey regularly shows a 99%+ correlation with the comparable BARB data, despite being measured via a different methodology.

 

  1. BARB is fit for purpose. Although it has been criticised for being slow to measure new forms of viewing, such as on demand, and cannot be deemed reliable in its measurement of individual programmes on the smallest channels, it measures the bulk of TV viewing accurately and reliably. It was interesting in the Screen debate that there was also a complaint from the on demand aggregators that BARB doesn’t measure their output yet (although plans are being developed), which kind of suggests even they see the point of BARB really.

 

The most common criticism of BARB from the online industry is that a sample size of 5,000 is almost archaic in the age of big data. Such complaints display ignorance in themselves; BARB’s sample size is over 12,000 people in more than 5,000 households. It is enough to provide an accurate and consistent measure of most TV viewing, certainly the viewing which attracts the vast bulk of TV revenues.

This is not to say that BARB shouldn’t evolve to match the changing demands of the digital media landscape, but so far it has managed pretty well. The main criticism is that it has been slow to measure on demand viewing via other screens, but this still accounts for less than 3% of total TV viewing, so it has not been a priority until now.  That said, BARB is already moving away from its core objective of ‘measurement of in-home viewing via the TV set’

I think, over the coming years, we can expect to see BARB measure more forms of TV viewing, wherever they occur. In order to keep up with the viewing shifts that are constantly evolving, we can also expect to see it fuse or merge with third party data – perhaps from server data or separate research studies – to provide a ‘Silver Standard’ service for the less mainstream forms of viewing.

What we won’t see in the foreseeable future is a rival service based on ‘big data’ and very different methodologies. There has been talk recently of social TV services such as zeebox providing alternative viewing measurement based on possibly hundreds of thousands of contributors. Good luck with that, I say, but until such a service can address the points I have raised in the case for BARB’s defence I think we can safely say that it will be around for quite some time to come.

HAS US PRIME TIME LOST ITS SHINE?

October 16th, 2012

According to a recent academic paper by a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, there has been an increasing collective interest in death and dying within American society, and it has been growing consistently for several decades. It certainly seems to have permeated the US media industry, and particularly its industry press, which has been chirruping recently about the dramatic falls in viewing the US networks have been experiencing in the last month or so, and the signal it sends that Americans are (finally!) drifting away from their television sets for good.

The New York Times reported under the headline ‘Prime-time Ratings Bring Speculation of a Shift in Viewing Habits’ that the combined network audiences were down by double digit levels year on year, with the comment “I think we are at a tipping point in how people are going to watch shows”. The LA Times breathlessly reported that “the prime-time television ratings drop took centrer stage at the Digital Content NewFront presentations in New York, with former ABC Entertainment Chairman Lloyd Braun seizing on the numbers as an opportunity to talk about changing viewing habits — and the rise of digital media”. Well, he would, wouldn’t he?

A single month of poor figures and the prophets of doom and gloom immediately assemble to pick over network television’s carcass. Except, there is no body to scavenge and the numbers being touted suffer from some basic misinterpretations!

Thanks to my good friend, Dr. Horst Stipp of the Advertising Research Foundation, I have managed to get hold of some Nielsen figures, which put a different light on the numbers.

The first thing to note is that the numbers relate to the 4 week period ending 12th April. Now, first of all, a four week period is hardly enough time to suggest the death of the dominant digital media channel, but sadly that is the short-termist nature of the world we live in. However, it wasn’t just any 4 week period; it was a period which contained both the Easter and spring breaks this year, but not in 2011. TV viewing suffers during those two periods, as anybody who has tried to get out of a major US city during Easter weekend will tell you. So, for a start, the analysis compares apples and pears.

The analysis is also incomplete. It only takes into account viewing to the main commercial networks (across one of their traditionally weaker audience periods) and, like most markets with a vibrant multi-channel offering, their share of viewing has been declining consistently, for something like 24 consecutive months. It also only includes live and same day viewing; so much of the timeshift viewing that has long been a feature of US TV viewing is taken out of the equation.

If we were to base the analysis on a longer time-span and a like-for-like comparison of all television viewing, Nielsen data shows a much more settled picture. For example, across the whole of the first quarter, total viewing is up and viewing amongst the all-important 18-49 demographic – the cord cutters and Netflix addicts (supposedly) – was actually up 2% on 2011.  In fact, across the whole TV season, from September 2011 to April 2012, both all individuals and 18-49 TV viewing levels were up on slightly on the previous year – and that, remember, is coming off a very high base.

There is a depressing familiarity to the speed with which this ‘TV is dying’ narrative continues to re-emerge. It only takes a few weeks’ data to set it off again, it is woefully ignorant of the context (e.g. the importance of Easter in the comparison) and it is based on wishful thinking, reminiscent of a time when “if we build it, they will come” was a staple phrase in most digital business plans.

GOOGLE AND DIGITAL FREEDOM

October 16th, 2012

I read the recent coverage of Google founder Sergey Brin’s plea for internet freedom with great interest – there must be seismic shifts happening to persuade the enigmatic Googlista to take such a public stand.  It covers everything from anti-piracy measures to creating an open (yet simultaneously private) channel through which democracy may flourish. Oh, and don’t forget the need for everything to be searchable. Overall, it confirmed a long-held view of mine, that there are digital and analogue businesses, and Google’s is fundamentally digital.

I explore this whole analogue-digital divide in my new book (shameless plug[1]), from the perspective of television’s resilience to a deluge of ‘disruptive’ digital technologies that have become mainstream within the past 5 years, focussing on the analogue strengths of TV such as storytelling, engagement, sharing and trust, but I think the paradigm applies to media in general. There are digital companies – Google, Microsoft, Facebook – and there are analogue ones, which rely on digital technology but are analogue in nature, within which I’d include Apple, BSkyB and Amazon.

I’m interested in this analogue-digital paradigm, not from a technological perspective but from a communications one. The celebrated communications theorist, Paul Watzlawick, as far back as the 1960s identified digital communication as the words themselves, syntax and semantics. Analogue communication was based on what he termed meta-communication, the complex and multi-layered meanings we take from the briefest nod of the head or change in vocal pitch. (Incidentally, this is why audio-visual is such a powerful communications tool).

Analogue – based on the principle of the whole being much greater than the sum of the parts – provides the richness, depth, emotion, complexity and narrative of communications. It creates a much more holistic perspective, and I believe it extends to the mindset of media and technology companies. The divide between the two mindsets was perfectly illustrated in Eric Schmidt’s recent admission during his McTaggart lecture that Google could never be a content creator because it is too focussed on engineering. It is digital to its very core.

It’s interesting how all of this applies to the equivalent technologies. Digital is binary, efficient, data-driven, and technology-led, whereas analogue is holistic, creative, insight-driven and consumer-led. It’s true that digital provides a fantastic distribution and promotional vehicle for analogue-driven experiences, but the analogue mindset creates the value in the content. Storytelling, for example, a fundamental building block in human learning and behaviour, is analogue by its very nature. In my book, I talk about digital leading to replacement theory mindset, where new and more efficient technologies simply replace what has gone before. Analogue thinking, in my view, is based more on eco-system theory; with new technologies enhancing the existing landscape and the whole becoming greater than the sum of the parts (e.g. more viewing, greater engagement or deeper interactivity). That is why I dislike the term ‘disruption’ so much – after all, consumers are fundamentally opposed to disruption on principle.

But digital is more efficient, seen as a superior technology and therefore analogue is perceived as fundamentally inferior. I want to stand up for analogue because I think it’s had a bad rep. Until digital companies recognise its importance, they will struggle to realise the web’s true value (a couple of examples could be the failures of semantic search and Google TV). I’ll illustrate this with two rhetorical questions;

  1. How many insight people are employed by the digital brand leaders compared to the big media companies? Or other major ‘analogue’ companies, for that matter? Because, take my word for it, data in itself does not create insight and can often lead down some very rocky paths.
  2. How has the value of what the digital-based companies provide improved in the past 5 years? Is search significantly better? Social networking more fun? Hotmail less frustrating? The customer experience more engaging?

Now consider the analogue-mindset companies. Has the value of the Apple experience improved? Does Amazon manage your customer servicing better? Is the Sky pay TV offering improved on that of 5 years ago?

It could be argued that, to the average consumer, the former are faceless providers of utility services while the latter provide a human element across the brand experience, from design to marketing to customer servicing. That’s why I’d always back analogue businesses to win out in the long term; because the world may be turning digital but people are fundamentally analogue in nature.

Think about this from the perspective of your ‘digital footprint’! How much of the whole person, the real you, does your digital trail really represent? It provides lots of data, which can be mined in increasingly efficient ways, but I don’t think it even scratches the surface of what makes people so complex, so unpredictable, so…analogue.

But I digress. The Google entreaty for digital freedom contained three component parts. It lamented the increasing state censorship and surveillance, rights management from content owners restricting open access and the explosion of apps limiting what is available via open search (apparently Google’s web crawlers cannot pick up in-app activity).

Taking them one by one, I have always been cynical about the digerati’s ambitions for a completely free, democratic and open (yet somehow private) worldwide web. I don’t disagree with the sentiment, but I have always doubted that governments like China’s would simply hold their hands up and accept the new democratic transparency.  Google’s tortuous relationship with the Chinese government has demonstrated the scale of the problem. I also think there are splits within the digital industry itself in terms of where the line between openness and privacy should be drawn (as demonstrated by Facebook’s recent statement that online users should adhere to a single, accessible, identifiable online identity). Another example; Google’s pronouncements this week that parents should take more responsibility for filtering online porn show an alarmingly out-of-touch relationship with its user base (but, then again, 57% of online video viewing is to pornography, so there is a lot to lose).

The opposition to rights management has been expressed for many years, but I still remain to be convinced by the arguments. I remember a late night debate with a very good friend of mine, where he argued that unemployed people should have the right to shoplift without any criminal sanction, on the basis they needed the support and retailers were profitable enough as it is. I didn’t agree with that, and I don’t agree that content owners should simply give up on the commercial rights to their content, just because the internet makes it readily available.

And then we come to the explosion in apps and the difficulties that poses for open search. Again, I am not convinced by Google’s argument that apps are a fundamentally bad thing; not to their users, they’re not! Although it may reduce the efficiency of open search, why would those who have already downloaded an app care? They have got what they want out of the deal, and the explosion in app-based access to the internet indicates it fulfils some basic human needs, meaning this is likely to become a bigger problem to Google in future. In fact, the success of apps suggests to me that Google’s “what do you want?” approach to online access is becoming increasingly anachronistic in a choice-saturated world. As Barry Schwarz – author of ‘The Paradox of Choice’ – stated, “choice is cherished, but choosing is a chore”.

I think we need to keep this analogue-digital paradigm in mind when we explore  issues such as Google’s ode to digital freedom, and we should understand how analogue characteristics create layers of depth, engagement and involvement which cannot be replicated via a purely digital mindset. Whether it is within the context of technology, communication or the business mindset, analogue is important and until companies such as Google, Microsoft and Facebook understand that fact, we will hear many more such complaints from Mr. Brin and his peers!



‘CONNECTED TV – How TV’s Analogue Strengths Have Created a Digital Supermedium’ – email me at david@medianative for more information

Keep taking the tablets

February 3rd, 2012

I attended the always lively and entertaining ‘The Year Ahead’ event hosted by Mediatel last week, where we were once again entertained, informed, inspired and challenged by the predictive powers of Ray Snoddy and Torin  Douglas, the Mitchell and Webb of media punditry. It felt a little strange this year; there was less focus on new technology than usual and rather more retrospection, especially given the momentous events from the last twelve months leading from Murdoch to Leveson.  As such, the newspaper industry was in the spotlight rather more than is customary but, despite the obvious concerns for its future, I felt there was more confidence and less defensiveness than we’ve come to expect. Part of that confidence came from the early signs that, for once, digital technology might be more of a saviour that a slayer through the emergence and rapid uptake of tablet computers.

A great deal has been written about how tablets are affecting media behaviour, but now we are seeing significant penetration levels (including the emergence of around a million multi-tablet households in the UK!) we are moving from speculation to observation. One of the points made at ‘The Year Ahead’ event was that consumers appear to be prepared to pay for content on their tablets that they would always access for free via their PC.

It is a truism (that happens to be untrue) that once people are used to getting something for free, they can never be persuaded to pay for it. The same used to be said about pay TV; why would people pay significant sums of money for TV that had never cost them a penny previously, apart from what they had been forced to pay via the BBC licence fee? In fact, even before BSkyB transformed the pay TV market through the Premier League deal in 1993, it had successfully persuaded almost three million households to pay for a very limited, nine channel pay television package dominated by archive and imported programme content. That was despite the inconvenience of having to get a satellite dish installed and a price point that invited unfavourable comparison with the value of the BBC licence fee cost.

Newspapers, though, seemed like an even less promising prospect. News has become commoditised by the internet and it is much harder to monetise digital content in this environment. Although it is accepted that digital revenues will always struggle to counter declines in newspaper circulation, mobile devices – especially tablets – do offer a ray of hope.

The always reliable Pew Centre in the USA calculates around a third of the 25 million tablet owners in the States have paid for access to newspaper content on their device, either directly or via a bundled service.  Their research (published last month) also shows that tablet owners are much more voracious consumers of news content and news access is a bigger part of their tablet consumption that social media, books or video consumption.  The money appears to be on bundled subscription offering the best way out for the struggling industry, but at least there appears to be a way out compared to the pre-iPad predictions.

This led me to wonder what is it about tablets that they can change the potential business model for a whole industry? After all, they are just a better way of accessing stuff we’ve always been able to access, and generally for free.

 

First of all, like many (most?) technological innovations, especially the expensive ones, tablets are quite a middle-aged phenomenon. I believe the average age of a tablet owner is around 42.  They are not typical early adopters of other digital technologies and, for this middle-aged, upmarket user base, cost is far less of an issue than for other demographics. (It is also the core audience for news media; later adopters might be less willing or prepared to pay for news content).

But it’s not just the profile of tablet users that is influencing the value they place on the content; there is something much more emotional going on. In many ways, tablets are the computing equivalent of the Nintendo Wii, but more personal. Their ease of use and instant gratification, as with the Wii, increases usage and engagement with the content (It’s interesting that game apps are one of the most popular categories).  For less experienced or enthusiastic online users, it can be empowering. As an entertainment device, it is associated with fun, not work.

I also think there is something emotional going on with the apps themselves. There is a sense of ownership, even with the ones that are free, whereas access to a URL feels more like renting the content. I saw exactly the same phenomenon in a research study I recently completed; people with comprehensive access to on demand TV content still preferred to have the best stuff on their DTR because they felt that was ‘theirs’.

Tablet ownership is going to grow exponentially over the next few years and it is already changing the nature of the online experience for many people. If newspapers, and other content providers, can provide content which is customised around that experience, and adds value to other media touchpoints (such as the print edition), then the tablets might be good for their health.

Are we an art or a science?

February 2nd, 2012

I’ve been giving the subject of this week’s blog a lot of thought and, although it might sound like pretentious twaddle in places, I would really appreciate any comments if it strikes a chord, hits a nerve or presses your buttons. It is about the art and science of our jobs.

I initially went to University to study economics, but gave it up after less than three weeks, persuading them that I really should have been studying psychology instead.  Economics frightened me in the same way the Daleks had caused me to hide behind the sofa just a decade before; it portrayed a world of self-interest – cold, rational, analytical, predictable and improbably perfect.

Psychology should have been much more satisfying; it was about people and even in my teens I recognised that they were much warmer, messier, irrational, complex and unpredictable than economic theory. Unfortunately, like many psychology faculties at the time, the focus was on the scientific method and many of the theorists I was drawn to would often be dismissed as charlatans, because their theories could never be scientifically tested.  Psychology so wanted to be a science, even though it was designated a Bachelor of Arts degree.  If it couldn’t be measured, it couldn’t exist, said my tutors, and who was I to disagree?

This conflict between art and science has not always been so pronounced. During the Renaissance of the 14th – 17th centuries, both art and science flourished and polymaths such as Da Vinci were commonplace. However, the subsequent ‘Age of Enlightenment’, from the late 17th century, prized reason above everything and many of the rigourous principles underpinning science, mathematics and economics were laid down. They have ensured science has been valued over art ever since.

In our world of media and marketing, we have a much shorter timeframe to look at, but I think we have been through our renaissance and are now living through our age of enlightenment. Take advertising; the world of ‘Mad Men’ depicted one where art carried the torch. The creative was the focus, the science was more peripheral and ‘research’ was still finding its feet.

Since then, we’ve had our own Age of Enlightenment, although I’m not sure how enlightened it has made us.  A combination of ‘marketing science’ – where everything can be measured and evaluated – and digital technology – unleashing a torrent of analytics – has ensured there is more than a hint of Dalek in the cold, rational, analytical, predictable and perfectly-defined world we now inhabit.  This is the world of the pre-test, the marketing formula, real-time planning , media auditing and response optimisation. In its way, it is a beautiful place, a data junkie’s nirvana, but it has never felt like home!

There are signs that things are swaying back to a new Renaissance, though.  Two connected phenomena in particular, have helped to make life interesting again;

  1. 1.       The decline in the reputation of classical economics, and the increasing applicability of behavioural economics to marketing theory and practice.
  2. 2.       The increasing understanding that emotion is behind most decision-making and it can be best elicited through creativity.

I think both of the above have begun to transform marketing and advertising, the former in quite a micro way (re-framing the context, employing media touchpoints for specific behavioural goals) whilst the latter has been at a more macro level (releasing creativity, uniting media around big, brave ideas).

So here is my question. Is media – especially media research   - ahead of or behind the curve? Is it driven by art or science?

In order to answer that question, let me ask a follow-up. How much of our work directly affects the decisions that really move the goalposts? I don’t mean reinforcing decisions that have already been taken or fine-tuning the process. How often does the work we produce -  whether for media owners, agencies or advertisers –  have a real influence on the stuff that normal consumers would mention spontaneously if you were to stop them on the street or would animatedly  talk about amongst themselves in all of those face-to-face conversations we never hear? When they enthuse about animated meerkats, genre-busting TV shows, drumming gorillas, magazines aimed at lifestyles you didn’t know existed, posters that (literally) stop the traffic or social media experiences that last longer than a wet weekend, how often can research, or planning for that matter, puff out its chest and say “Without me that might never have happened”?

I don’t want to make this sound like an attack on research or planning. I have been fortunate enough to work for, with and against some of the most knowledgeable, talented and intellectually curious people I could ever wish to meet, but this issue has bugged me throughout my career.  We have developed the perfect tools to analyse, evaluate and measure, but how often do we use them to inspire, innovate or even challenge preconceptions? I can’t think of too many examples.

 If we want to be there when the big decisions are being made, we need to merge the science with the art, the insight with the analytics, and the creative with the prosaic.  It’s possible; the data’s available in abundance and the ‘renaissance’ skills within our industry even more so. Are we bringing them together enough to really make a difference? Do we need a renaissance or are we enlightened enough?

It’s a genuine question. If you have an answer, or even an insight to offer, email me at david@medianative.tv.

Attention – this is not engagement!

February 2nd, 2012

‘Engagement’ is still one of the most overused words in media. It is a slippery snake of a concept, still without a consensus definition and ‘measured’ in a menagerie of random (and often conflicting) ways. Each medium has a different interpretation of it and those interpretations don’t travel well. We have no accepted view of how it contributes to the bottom line. We know very little about it. But we know one thing; it is not attention. We don’t ‘think about’ engagement. So why does it keep getting pushed that way?

Siegmund Freud studied neuroscience, but became frustrated by the limited explanation the physical brain could provide for the complexities of the human experience. When he proposed, more than a century ago, that “‘most of our mental life operates unconsciously and that consciousness is merely a property of one part of the mind” he was vilified by the scientific community. Yet those two hypotheses, that most of our mental functioning happens at an unconscious level and our conscious brain is relatively unimportant in the wider scheme of things, are readily (and provably) accepted by that same community today.

What hasn’t changed is the constant pressure by some within the marketing industry to keep the focus on the conscious brain. It is easy to measure, even easier to predict and understand. It’s the part of the brain we can most easily influence. Unfortunately, in most consumer decisions, including the most important they will ever make, it has very little influence itself.

So what has this got to do with engagement?

Well, over the past decade, ever since the term ‘engagement’ became one of the media industry’s mots du jour, everybody’s been pushing it towards our conscious brain. Part of the problem is the lack of a cohesive definition of what the hell it means. The Advertising Research Foundation committed huge resource to coming up with the definition we all use nowadays: Engagement is turning on a prospect to a brand idea, enhanced by the surrounding context”

The ARF definition is descriptive but hardly insightful. It tells us that engagement has three component parts – the consumer (the prospect), the content (brand idea) and the context. But it doesn’t tell us how it works.  In fact, the best definition of engagement I have ever heard has come from the neuroscientists. They define engagement as “a sense of immersion in an experience, generated by feelings of personal relevance”.

In most neuromarketing studies, including the one I commissioned at Thinkbox last year, engagement is strongly correlated with our long-term memory encoding (LTME), which is where most of our purchasing ‘heuristics’ (emotional short-cuts) are formed.  It is interesting that attention levels have no relationship with LTME at all. More relevant to this debate is this; attention and engagement have no direct relationship with each other! It is the cognitive/explicit and the emotional/implicit brains working independently of each other. As usual, we’ve put all of our focus on the part of the brain with which we are most comfortable. So, we have engagement metrics such as click-through rates, dwell time, recall, purchase intent, buzz metrics, website visits and brand preference used with abandon, all focussed on the cognitive side of our brains.

This was brought home to me when I attended the annual Media Research Group Conference a couple of weeks ago. There was a thought-provoking paper from Becky McQuade of Sky and Anne Mollen from the Cranfield School of Management attempting to define online engagement. Anne defined engagement as “a cognitive and affective commitment to an active relationship” which requires three elements

  • Utility/relevance
  • Pleasure/enjoyment
  • Dynamic and sustained cognitive process

 

My first instinct was to bristle; again, so much emphasis on the cognitive. But then, I thought, this is about online engagement, and when people are in that attentive state of mind, maybe the definition works. But, if it does, it is as a consequence of engagement, rather than as a measure of it.

Online activity is all about attention. It is task-oriented, focussed and goal-seeking. That is one of the main reasons why most forms of online display struggle to generate impact; they are too easy to ‘edit out’ (which is advertising embedded in video entertainment appears to work best of all). It is the predominant mindset, so that even the same content viewed online will be processed with far more attention and far less engagement that if it was viewed on TV.

However, attention and engagement may not be (cor)related, but they are no strangers. I have seen tons of evidence to suggest that, once the engagement has been achieved, it can more easily lead to attention and, ultimately, action. Consumers purchasing cars, furniture, computers, TV sets, games consoles and digital cameras (to name but a few) will all talk about how the TV ad created a sense of engagement and relevance with the brand, that was then nudged forward and harvested via online attention-based actions.

There used to be a significant time gap between creating the engagement and harvesting the attention, but as all media platforms become more interactive (directly or via second screens) that gap is shortening. We saw some great examples at Thinkbox of people going from initial awareness of a product to purchase during the course of a single commercial break. That means they go from engagement to attention to action in a matter of seconds.

The thing is, we still need to understand this process better, and how we can best plan for it. It alters the whole concept of ‘campaign periods’, ‘effective frequency’, ‘point of sale’ and ‘brand-building vs. response’ to name but a few. It means we have to fully understand what we really mean by the term ‘engagement’, rather than just throwing it around as one of those ‘boardroom bingo’ phrases. Most importantly of all, it means getting the measurement right, rather than use proxy metrics that are really measuring something else entirely. We may prefer to measure attention, but unless we understand what has generated it, it will continue to slip from our grasp.

 

Is TV Viewing Beginning to Plateau?

January 13th, 2012

MEDIATEL
BLOG

IS
TV VIEWING BEGINING TO PLATEAU?

One of the most notable media phenomena of the twenty
first century so far has been the inexorable rise of television viewing.
Despite all of the disruptions that TV was expected to suffer – as a result of DTRs,
search, online viewing, social media, wireless broadband, smartphones,
connected TVs and the rest – the net result has been a consistent rise in
viewing to TV (and, especially, TV commercials), both via the TV screen and via
other devices.

Average hours of viewing to TV, as measured by BARB
(therefore excluding viewing on other devices) have increased every year so far
this century. The average individual now watches more than four hours of TV
every day and total TV viewing has increased by ten per cent on levels a decade
ago. Commercial viewing has risen even further and the amount of viewing to TV
commercials, at normal speed, has
risen by almost a quarter in the last five years alone.

Just how long can this continue? The latest data suggests
TV viewing may be close to reaching a plateau and the new forms of viewing –
such as via internet or mobile phones – are also experiencing a slowdown in
their rate of adoption.

In the first nine months of this year, total TV viewing
levels are up less than one per cent on last year, suggesting 2011 could show
the flattest year on year viewing performance since the 1990s. Commercial
viewing is up five per cent, although this has largely been driven by digital
switchover, which is almost complete. Although even the current figures are
well ahead of any of the predictions from ten years ago, all the signs are that
TV viewing has reached saturation point, or is not far from it.

Even the new forms of viewing, which have risen exponentially in line with total viewing, are
beginning to see some slowdown. The latest BARB Bulletin shows claimed viewing
via internet and via mobile phones. The numbers of people engaging with both is
increasing, but the underlying numbers look less impressive than we might have
expected.

Let’s take viewing to TV via the internet. In total, 36.2% of the UK population have watched some TV this way during November 2011,
up from 34.4% at the same time last year – an increase of five per cent. Mobile
phone access to TV content has been tried by 7% of individuals in November this
year, up by two fifths on the 5% last year.

So, theoretically, these new forms of viewing should keep
TV viewing levels on the rise, even as BARB-reported viewing begins to level
off or even decline. However, if we look beyond the headline numbers, internet
and mobile TV viewing levels are less impressive than they first appear. That
is because the numbers of regular users are not neccessarily rising in
proportion.

Normally, when a new technology is adopted, the increase
in total penetration is soon overtaken by the increases in the numbers of loyal
or regular users, as the activity takes hold. In the case of TV viewing by
internet, the increase in weekly and monthly users is rising no faster than
total penetration. T   mhe number of
weekly users has only risen by three per cent across the year. For TV viewing
by mobile phone, the number of regular users is outstripping total users – just
– but given smartphone penetration is well over fifty per cent by now, total
user penetration of just 7% (and less than 3% using weekly) is not terribly
impressive.

Given that digital switchover is almost complete, pay TV
is almost at saturation point and most of the new technologies that have
affected TV viewing are already well-established by now, perhaps it shouldn’t
be a surprise that TV viewing is also reaching saturation levels. There are
only so many hours in the day for us to engage in any media activity, and TV’s
ability to eat up an average four hours per day of our time has been
astonishing.  Still, all good things come
to an end and in the current age of austerity, maybe a plateau is not such a
bad thing anyway!