February 26, 2019

by Nigel Hollis

Duncan Southgate, our Global Brand Director for Media, drew my attention to Mark Ritson’s reaction to the latest Ebiquity report titled ‘TV At a Tipping Point’ . Ebiquity finds that TV’s superiority in building quick, cost effective reach may be coming to an end. Ritson questions whether their analysis allows for how people’s behaviour changes as they grow older. I am more concerned about what the forecast means for brand building.

Let me try to summarize both the report and Ritson’s rather lengthy response.

The Ebiquity report extrapolates from existing trends in UK TV viewership and finds that the supply of eyeballs, particularly younger ones, is drying up. And that means that advertiser demand will likely outstrip eyeball supply, driving up costs, so that in about five years’ time TV is no longer the most cost-effective, mass reach medium.

Ritson counters by asking if Ebiquity have considered how people’s viewing habits will change as they age. He suggests that “the advent of ageing, kids, work pressures and the container-load of shit that middle age dumps onto most people from a great height” will cause today’s young adults to start reaching for the remote as they age. Will their viewership be less he asks? His conclusion is yes, but by how much is anyone’s guess.

So here is my take. Ritson has a point, life stage does make a difference and will likely take the edge off the Ebiquity forecast. But that simply means that TV’s superior ability to reach a mass audience on a cost-effective basis will erode more slowly. At some point, it will be too costly for most brands to even consider reaching a mass audience using TV. The ‘TV At a Tipping Point’ report states that in the UK, even in 2018, reaching 80 percent of 16 to 34 year olds was “effectively unattainable”.

But here is my fundamental concern. The report also states,

“There is no immediately obvious replacement for linear TV on the media plan.”

Now that is a problem. Because there is a lot of evidence to suggest that TV is not just superior in terms of reach. TV’s ability to evoke an emotional response from viewers and create lasting, brand-linked memories is also part of its power. Add in the social sharing and cultural benefits of mass TV viewing and it starts to look like an even more compelling choice.  It does have a tendency to be overspent, so its brand-building cost effectiveness may not necessarily be  the best, but currently it drives changes in brand attitudes unlike any other medium.

Over the years, I have highlighted cases where brands have found TV to be the best way to build their brand, in conjunction with appropriate brand activation, but if you cannot use TV to reach most of your audience, then what? Yes, online video shares many of the same properties. And, if advertisers are willing to invest more and the inventory is available, then maybe it can replace traditional, linear TV. But that is a big maybe because younger people are not a digital pushover and in future an awful lot of viewing will likely be on premium VOD ad-free platforms.

Before I close, l just want to remind people that while the Ebiquity forecast is not technically a “straight line” one, it is an extrapolation of existing trends. Advertisers might want to figure out what happens if the tipping point turns out to be a meltdown. All brands should have a disaster recovery plan, right? But what do you think? Is TV doomed? What about brand building?

 

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