Not so many years ago, it was a popular notion to declare that TV was dead, that the internet had taken over as the main form of entertainment. It was also claimed at one point that a WW2 bomber was found on the moon. People get stuff wrong, right?
Check out this latest data release from BARB showing scheduled TV consumption over time.
You see it too, yeah? Average daily viewing in 2017 fell below 3.5 hours. Calamity, TV is basically dead.
Actually TV viewing looks incredibly stable – 3.38 hours is a pretty long time to be doing something during waking hours. Yes there has been a recurring downturn int he last 4-5 years but if you bear in mind the market context this is really very robust.
Let’s just take a look at that recent dip though, what is its cumulative impact?
OK, since 2010 (when the latest panel was recruited) viewing has dipped a total of -16%. So whilst this is a clear downward trend, it is still pretty resilient in the face of an $8bn content budget for Netflix. British TV is made of strong stuff buddy.
Now let’s take a look at the same data, split by demographic…
Viewing among kids and 16-24s has dropped by over 40% cumulatively.
I don’t believe it! – Yeah but no but yeah but – D’oh! – You havin’ a laugh? – Am I bovvered though?
Yes we probably should be bothered by this. Crisis-level? Yes pretty much.
And I’m not trying to be troublesome here – about 45% of the revenue to my business has thus far relied on UK television broadcasters. This stuff really matters to me.
Remember this is TV viewing of UK broadcasters via linear schedules (including catch up via PVRs). True it doesn’t include catch up viewing via non-TV devices. This is captured via BARB’s Project Dovetail measurement and unfortunately this shows a fairly flat level of growth over the last 18 months.
BUT! TV advertising money in the UK is really buoyant – last year all TV revenue (spots, sponsorship, on-demand etc) in the UK amounted to £5.11 billion. TV is still an incredibly efficient medium for broad-appealing big brands – and funnily more money is being spent on TV ads by internet brands such as Amazon, Confused.com, Facebook, Google and Netflix which says a lot about the power of TV.
At least Netflix isn’t selling ads (yet). But thinking more long-term, is this revenue level likely to sustain if viewing levels drop much further than they have already?
At this rate of change, TV viewing – which was pretty old to begin with – is going to get older and older. But what about the brands who desperately need to reach those elusive young people?
Last night I switched on the TV at 9pm to be faced with Ambulance, Civilisations, Harold Shipman: Doctor Death and 999: What’s Your Emergency? I am 43 years old and I just couldn’t face any of this stuff.
But broadcasters simply commission and cater for the audiences that are there and the big audiences these days are older. Fact is, a lot of young people just prefer to view on-demand than via a schedule. The evidence is clear.
So what do they (we) do about this? Here are my 4 key actions…
Consolidate (and then consolidate some more).
In the 2000s, broadcasters desperately launched waves of new channels to bolster advertising share against the threat of pay-TV. Yet did they really have the content or budgets to fulfil their promise? Oh all those repeats! Add to that the +1 channels (+2 and +1.5 channels!) and you end up with a TV landscape which is confused, cluttered and impossible to navigate. So as well as all the +1 channels let’s make a multi-lateral decision to close BBC4, ITV2, ITVBe, ITV3, ITV4, 4Seven, More4, 5USA, 5* and all the others and redirect that operational budget back into a few key, decipherable channel brands with great content and great marketing budgets.
Put on-demand first and foremost.
Invest heavily in on-demand players to ensure they are omnipresent, easy to use with content that is easy to discover and share. Let’s even have just one UK player for all UK channels – remember Project Kangaroo anyone?
Think about the kids (man).
For a very long time, UK television has disengaged with young people. It’s a vicious circle – young people find their attention waning by what’s on TV so they find other things to do and therefore TV caters for the people who do watch, and so on. It worries me a lot that the biggest hit on TV in recent years has been Gogglebox. What does this tell us?
UK channels are not in competition with each other anymore – more so they are being beaten up pretty bad by Netflix and Amazon. The bad news is Google and Apple are waiting on the sideline to come on and have a go. So they should work together, co-produce, help each other out, multiply their creativity through more and more collaboration. Saturday night scheduling wars between Strictly and X Factor are a thing of the 1990s, not the 2020s.