Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

THE RELEVANCE OF CHANNEL BRANDS

October 16th, 2012

I have just returned from the IBC Conference, otherwise described as the Planet Klingon – by its own delegates! –  in Amsterdam. It is my third visit in just over a decade, and although on the surface much remains the same (dress codes, conference topics, and several people vaguely resembling Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons!) some things do change below the surface. One such thing is the realisation that TV is not only not going to go away, but that it is integral to the success of many of the products and services on display.

My role at IBC this year was to argue against the proposition that “connected TV will render traditional TV channels irrelevant”.  Part of me was surprised this was still up for debate, but then I remembered the setting. There was a robust debate from John Honeycutt of Discovery, Nigel Walley, Anthony Rose, Saul Berman et al resulting in a strong majority of the audience voting against the motion – i.e. there is a place for ‘traditional’ (I do hate that word – it assumes a rejection of change) channel brands in the future connected world of television.

Mind you, as almost exactly the same proportion had voted the same way in the pre-debate benchmark vote, it means the two teams technically tied. It does, though, demonstrate the seismic change in attitudes to TV’s future role amongst the tech community, totally different to even 3-4 years ago, and that is worth thinking about. Even if we hadn’t managed to shift the balance during the debate in the slightest!

As far as my own personal contribution went, my preparation for the debate gave me a renewed sense of the continuing importance of channel brands in a connected TV world. Branding becomes increasingly important whenever choice and functionality is improved, and the TV viewing environment is no different. But, I can hear you ask, why shouldn’t those brands be Google or Apple or even zeebox?

I attempted to answer that in four parts.

First of all, brands have to stand for something relevant to the choice process and channel brands have proven to be a very defined and relevant short-cut to programme choice for decades. Viewers understand the difference between an E4 late night drama and an ITV Sunday evening one, a Discovery documentary and a Nat Geo competitor. People use channel brands all the time, as several on demand aggregators have found to their cost.

Secondly, channel brands offer a guarantee of quality (after all, the essence of what a brand should stand for); for most viewers,  it is important that a programme has had a peak-time, ‘proper’ channel transmission; a bit like theatrical release is important to the DVD market (and ‘straight to DVD’ tells you all you need to know).

Thirdly, we should never underestimate the importance of now! What is on the telly now is significantly more important than what’s on my planner or on demand, which is why the latter are often used a safety net and the schedules remain first port of call. Social media and channel programming strategies are making now more important all the time, and while the schedules take precedence, the channels that create that content will always thrive.

Finally, I talked about the context of viewing; most of which is still shared with other people. This is always missed out by those advocating an individualised, targeted, solitary viewing future, and it means that the aggregators’ main USP – personalisation  – will only benefit those living alone or preferring to watch alone (most don’t). Shared viewing is more about compromise than the personalised, something the channel brands are uniquely able to provide with their much-derided ‘general entertainment’ tag.

I also looked to a future where channel brands can increase their revenue base through opportunities such as merchandising, live events, PPV, micro-payments, data value and a whole bunch more. They can be much more than just a navigational aid in TV’s connected future.

They will need to adapt in order to thrive, but when even the IBC Crowd are pronouncing their faith in the ‘traditional’ TV channels, it is time to reaffirm their relevance, past present and future.

 

DELOITTE TV:WHY? REPORT

October 16th, 2012

“I can’t imagine life without television”

Only 9% of sample disagreed strongly – compared to 22% who agreed strongly.

Total agree is around 55% – total disagree around 20%

About 2x % 16-18s strongly agree compared to 55+s

 

“Watching TV is a good way of bringing the family together”

Total agree around 55% – compared to total disagree c. 12%

More than twice the % of 55+s disagree cf teenagers (16%)

Sharing in the physical space/analogue world

 

“Watching TV with others is much more enjoyable than watching alone”

C 50% agree vs 18% disagree

Young much more likely to agree

 

TV Got Worse?

For each of past 21 years UK public been polled (Deloitte?). Each year 30-40% say TV programming ‘got worse’ and only 10% say it has improved

How ties in with the importance of now?

Deloitte – 52 hours first run programming on PSBs alone every day! Estimate we don;t watch 99.95% (1460 hours p.a. vs 3million produced!)

Younger agree “the quality of TV programmes nowadays is better than ever before” but equal agree/disagree at older end of spectrum

 

Second Screening – Like TV Dinners

2 connected devices per UK citizen – laptops, smartphones, tablets. Early adopters 4 per adult

Mainly about TV – especially 121 communication and wider social networking. About TV > instead of TV. Ripple > Drill (expand analogy)

 

Frequency of communication with others via internet about the programme being watched – e.g. messaging, email, Facebook, Twitter;

-       Half of 16-24s do frequently or occasionally

-       Only 22% never use web to talk about programmes

About 2/3 agree slightly or strongly with statement “I can’t be bothered to interact with programmes”. Not much variation by age – where are the ‘killer apps’?

 

TV LOSES SEX APPEAL

October 16th, 2012

Before their careers took off, both Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn were told they were simply not sexy enough to make it in Hollywood. Being sexy is obviously in the eye of the beholder, which is just as well for TV.

I have just returned home from a media conference where I heard yet again from a senior media strategist with a global advertiser how TV is simply ‘not sexy enough’ as a media channel and is being kicked out of the marital bedroom in favour of those hot young things at Google, Facebook and Apple. In fact, to make it even worse, it is totally TV’s fault for not only letting itself go but also, at the same time, failing to put the effort into the relationship.  “You don’t call, you don’t write, you don’t visit me every day with a stunning new creative solution…” . OK, I paraphrased things slightly, but not by much.

This last point grated somewhat; I’ve seen too many recent examples of broadcasters offering increasingly creative solutions to advertisers across Europe and North America to accept that is the case, but it did point to a major disconnect between the ambitions of the advertiser and the attitude and/or resources of the media owner. And it is not an isolated incident – I have seen similar presentations from a range of global advertisers who, between them, account for a huge proportion of media expenditure.

The presentation was subject to a great deal of polite but insistent questioning from the audience, following which I grasped three fundamental  challenges that a frumpy old medium like TV will need to address if it is pass the Marilyn and Audrey test, rather than be perceived to be the Anne Widdecombe/John Sergeant (take your pick) of communications planning.

The first of these is an ability to offer 360 degree solutions, encompassing all aspects of the media owner’s business. Having worked with a couple of the online giants recently, I think there is merit in this. Their sales teams (many of them from a TV background, ironically enough) can offer direct input from a range of disciplines within the group; sales, marketing, creative, editorial, strategic and technological. Compare this, say, to the tortuous processes advertisers need to go through just to get an advertiser-funded programme on air, with the programme production teams often offering a less than joined up approach to the whole process. There has to be a lesson there for the broadcasters. The TV sales people who have ‘gone digital’ certainly appear to relish the opportunities to not only think, but sell outside the box.

The second challenge is even more daunting. When pressed, the advertiser in question agreed that they have directly approached a wide range of media players to discuss potential partnerships, including production companies, Hollywood studios and platform operators. Although there were some TV broadcasters on the list, these were all global brands; highly localised or regionalised players were not being invited to the party. This would naturally exclude brands such as ABC, NBC, ITV, Channel 4, TF1, RTL and ProSiebenSat1 from the invitation list – all major players within their markets and all of whom would be expected to lead the way in offering creative solutions to the advertisers within those markets.

I have no doubt the broadcasters have the resources to rise to this challenge, but it might mean a more open-minded and collaborative approach between the organisations representing TV – whether that be Thinkbox, EGTA or the TV Bureau of Canada. If the individual TV companies cannot get an invite to the party, maybe they should work together to enable the case for TV to be made to the global communications planners and strategists that now sit in head offices across the USA and Europe. If nothing else, it would get them on the guest list and the sheer novelty of seeing the whole TV industry work together in such a way would send out a very powerful signal.

Of course, it would probably never happen!

The third challenge is an even more fundamental one. Throughout the presentation (and the many other similar presentations I have seen given by global comms strategists of major advertisers), I felt the enthusiasm was invested in what the technology could do rather than the creative excellence behind what was being communicated. This meant that some of the examples given involved clever use of technology and a successful performance amongst those reached BUT many of the creative ideas appeared tired and forced, and the reach levels of the campaigns were less than impressive.

We are now two decades into the digital revolution, and yet this ‘TV is not sexy enough’ mindset appears to me to be both retrograde and lazy. It works on an assumption of TV’s role in the digital media landscape which is at least ten years out of date. It assumes the media channel can be separated and placed in a silo. It also demonstrates a discouraging ignorance of what exactly is going on in TV right now, and some of the highly creative solutions it can provide (generally, WITH other media channels rather than as an alternative to them!).

So, my question to the big, global advertisers is this. Has TV really lost its sex appeal, or are you just looking for a younger model? Because we all know how those relationships usually end, don’t we?

CONNECTED, CONVERGED…AND NO LONGER CONFUSED!

October 16th, 2012

Last week, I had the pleasure of presenting at the EGTA (European Group of Television Advertising) AGM in Paris. For those who don’t know EGTA, they represent commercial broadcasters across Europe (and, increasingly, Asia and Africa).  The UK’s broadcasters are woefully under-represented within EGTA membership, but the remaining 34 countries and 82 broadcasters in the house were treated to two days of thought-provoking and generally uplifting perspectives on TV’s connected future.

As convergence is happening before our very eyes – with screens syncing together in seamless harmony – so we are beginning to see just how TV’s connected future is shaping up. On the final day of EGTA’s AGM, three evangelists for the connected living room showed their wares. Bruno Peirera of The TV App Agency and Tej Rekhi from DG Mediamind provided compelling examples of how content jumps from screen to screen, making the communal personal and the personal communal. Meanwhile, Miles Lewis of Shazam, showed how broadcasters are already using their audio matching technology to promote programmes and advertisers to deepen engagement. And the simplicity of the convergence to the viewer – buy app and point smartphone at TV – is what will make experiences such as these work.

There has been a step change in the creative & digital industries over the last couple of years, with an emphasis moving from trying to replace television towards trying to work with it, by deepening engagement, furthering interactivity and enabling sharing. The key to this has been the second (and now third, fourth, fifth…) screens that have sprung up in living rooms across the land. They allow all of these enhancements to take place without disturbing the communal and immersive experience of ‘watching TV’. That is why the main role of connected TV’s – once they finally get connected – is not to channel the internet into the TV set, but rather to send TV to the internet. Once it’s there, people can do their own thing with it, on their own screen.  I’ve heard it described as red button on steroids, but this is another level to the clunky, limited red button experience.

Of course, with technologies like Shazam, the TV doesn’t even need to be connected.

Not only does this have implications for the effectiveness of individual spots, it can also change the whole nature of the break, as Miles demonstrated through Shazam’s work on this year’s Superbowl. You can see some examples here (http://shazamadvertising.com/view/mail?iID=WHVEPW5QDBWHG2W7NJVH).

It offers some powerful opportunities to broadcasters and advertisers alike, if they embrace the technology, each commercial break could be a mini-Superbowl experience. But I can’t help thinking that the advertising breaks will need to do all they can to keep their audience from Shazaming off somewhere else…at a single wave of their smartphone!

 

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.

Effectiveness Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

March 2nd, 2012

It’s only since I began regularly blogging on media matters that I have also started to ask odd questions whenever I’m confronted with a straightforward headline. I should have been satisfied with the report from the USA’s Association of National Advertisers (ANA), announcing research amongst major advertisers showing a renewed faith in television. To quote Bill Duggan of the ANA; “This survey confirms that the death of television has been greatly exaggerated. Our findings shine a spotlight on the bullish attitude that advertisers have towards the medium, including passion for new TV and video platforms.”
It confirms something I’ve always felt about USA media, ever since I went on a media ‘fact-finding’ trip to New York in 1989 and returned disappointed – in many ways, they have always been a year or so behind us. Such a headline from UK advertisers’ body ISBA would hardly raise a yawn these days, it has become so taken for granted.
But something in the article intrigued me. The report stated that, compared to 2010, the number of advertisers judging TV ads to be more effective tripled. That seems like a massive jump to me in such a short space of time and I double checked to make sure there hadn’t been some game-changing event that had taken place in the USA without my knowledge. Not really.
So, how to explain such a leap in confidence in a medium which has probably been battered and bruised even more in the States than it has here in Limey-land? I’ve come up with three possible answers;

1.   Television really IS getting more effective over there. There is a good case that it is, but the technologies that are cited by the ANA, such as new video platforms and addressable advertising, are nowhere near mainstream enough yet to have made a noticeable difference.

 

2.   American advertisers are finally getting the tools to measure and correctly attribute TV’s contribution to effectiveness. If true, this would persuade me to re-calculate our lead over the USA to two years or more. It’s often surprised me, though, how less well-established 360 degree effectiveness evaluation is Stateside.

 

3.   It’s more of an emotional thing – they just feel more confident about praising TV. I think we sometimes forget just how ingrained the ‘TV is dead’ narrative became following the emergence of Web 2.0 until just a couple of years ago. I believe the UK industry only really began to reject it as too simplistic around 2009, which would mean (if my time-lag theory is correct) the tables would begin to turn in the US in 2010 – the low base year from which TV’s perceived effectiveness has tripled.

 

Of course, as always, it is probably a combination of all three, but if I had to select one of those alternatives as my main influence, it would have to be third. On the one hand, so much of what we do is based on emotion and ‘herd’ behaviour, why not advertisers’ sense of excitement (or ennui) in TV’s place in the media landscape? But it must also be based on an increased understanding of how effectiveness works and how to attribute TV’s contribution, especially given the sterling work recently from the IPA, ARF, PWC, Deloittes and Thinkbox. So, maybe it is the second answer as well. That seems more like it – left brain and right brain working together.
Either way, come on USA – catch up! (And how often do we get to say that?)

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!