Monday, 17 November 2008

Opportunities not to see….

The rest of the family has been away for the weekend, and it’s made me realise how easy it is to write when the TV isn’t on (ok, it’s made me realise how much easier it is to write when there isn’t a baby trying to eat the laptop as well, but anyway…). If I lived in a BARB household, pretty much everything I write would be whilst I was
being counted as an active TV viewer. I believe the technical Touchpoints term is concurrent consumption (ie two media channels at once). So I was in a research meeting today, talking about the relative value of TV impacts , which has historically been higher than other types of media. For example, Millward Brown studies over the years weight magazine impacts at about 60% of the value of TV impacts, because although ads in mags are more likely to be contextually more relevant than TV ads, there is also less likelihood of you actually seeing one if you have just opened up one issue. And because BARB is a more detailed and accurate survey than NRS, etc. This is before you factor in how audio-visual content has proven over the years to build emotional bonds with brands.

So that got me thinking about how we (that’s we the people, not we the media planners) are viewing TV. This is a moot point at the moment, because on the one hand TV has never had better content, never been cheaper in real terms, and in all probability will be watched even more next year when we can’t afford to go out of the house. But on the other I don’t know anyone who watches many TV ads any more. I think this is the underlying factor behind Tess Alps’s increasingly
frantic repeating of all the pluses for TV advertising
that I mentioned earlier, to remind the Guardian Tech readership that, yes, some people do watch telly still. Because there is no avoiding the facts: audio-visual ads still build brands more effectively than other traditional advertising formats, broadcast TV is still the quickest route to play those ads, and it is cheaper to do so on broadcast TV than ever before.


what if more and more people are watching all of the hugely diverse quality content on TV, but not seeing the ads? Obviously we know there are plenty of Sky+ and V+ boxes out there – 17% of the country at the last count (although as the last count was made by TGI, it WAS 6 months ago). Now received wisdom is that having one of these devices means you watch more telly. I know I do. And that while you obviously record some programmes and probably skip the ads in them, the increase in amount watched is more than the total amount timeshifted. This all comes from BARB data (admittedly with a Thinkbox spin) from 2006.

Trouble is, if you test this theory on unsuspecting members of the public, they tend to laugh at you. There’s a fundamental disconnect between UK qual and all US research , which says that we don’t watch TV ads, and UK quant (and this is all BARB stuff, so proper sample sizes), which says it isn’t a problem that we need to worry about at the moment except for a few must watch dramas that are disproportionately heavily timeshifted (but where we can buy cheap ads in the on-demand version anyway). So how come there is such a perception gap?

Well the main reason is VOSDAL. Viewed On Same Day As Live. A piece of BARB terminology that dates back to the VHS era, which was designed to add as many timeshifted viewings (you remember the kind – put chunky tape in recorder, fight for half an hour to programme the thing, keep the tape for months after you’d watched it because you didn’t want to delete something that had been such bloody hard work to get onto the tape in the first place) into the overnight figures that TV buyers managed their campaigns around. All timeshifted viewing is still reported back now as either same day or later

Thing is, it isn’t that difficult to record a programme now. Personally, I like live viewing, because you can use the EPG to skip around. But if the phone rings, the baby cries, I fancy a cup of tea, whatever, I’ll hit pause. Because I can. Actually, it works even better if it’s on a commercial channel, because then there will be 9 minutes of ads every hour that will let me catch up with live again, to get my EPG back. And I'm not the only one. Everyone who has Sky+ does this. That's what it is designed for, and it is what the Sky+ ads are all about

In fact ideally, we need VOSSAL – Viewed In Same Second As Live – to have confidence in our ad campaigns. So I had a look at BARB’s FAQs and methodologies to find out what counts as VOSDAL today. Please follow the links if you can be bothered, and if you find any evidence that it has changed from the VHS days let me know, because I couldn’t. In fact, when I rang BARB, their helpdesk couldn’t tell me either. All they could do was assure me that the overnights were accurate. Now BARB is statistically extremely accurate, so I don’t doubt them. But I don’t think that they actually measure if DVR owners are watching ads. And I suspect that this might be why I get so suspicious that Thinkbox have got something to hide when they tell us that TV has never been better. It hasn't of course: we have the best telly in the UK now that any country has ever had, and it will get even better when Kangaroo launches. But the audience is up to something, and I'm not sure if BARB are able to monitor it.


Le'Nise said...

Fantastic post - with lots of great research.

I like the idea of VOSSAL, but I also wonder about the tracking of programmes that people record and watch even a few days or weeks later. Is this factored into TV planning and does BARB consider this?

Graeme Wood said...

thanks Le'Nise

Yes, that's been what VOSDAL was all about, and it still works for DVR recordings. My point is more that I don't think BARB are measuring the ads that are skipped within the programme - or if t hey are, no-one can split out that data.

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