The Viewing Report

How are multiple-screen data changing the way we plan TV? by Emma Moorhead

21 May 2019

The media industry is in search of the Holy Grail: a single-source measurement of TV viewing across all screens and channels. In 2018, we got one step closer to this with the launch of multiple-screen viewing figures, the first stage of BARB’s Project Dovetail initiative. While these additional data are very much welcomed, how do they change the way we deliver the best outcomes for our clients?

Overnight viewing figures have formed the bedrock of how we plan, buy and optimise television campaigns. The launch of a new campaign goes hand-in-hand with securing a kick-off spot in a top-rating programme to reach a mass audience. If a programme over- or under-performs, next-day negotiations ensue to secure the desired number of exposures. But in recent years, displacement of viewing has made this task more complicated.

Linear television viewing is now regularly timeshifted. On average, people watch 29.3 daily minutes of television timeshifted, and this timeshifted viewing accounts for an average increase of 15% on a typical overnight rating. Sometimes it can be more; the launch episode of Shipwrecked on January 28th 2019 was watched live by 219,000 people, but the consolidated 7-day figure more than tripled to 685,000. Consolidated ratings used as a proxy for reach become progressively difficult to estimate, making the buyer’s job increasingly complex.

Some content is still watched live by the majority of its audience, in particular event programming – think of England in the World Cup. BARB data break down the numbers watching live or timeshifted within seven or 28 days, so we can buy the right spot when that live first-look is still the key metric; we’re starting to see greater nuances in how we plan our television content.

In addition, while it’s well-documented that linear television consumption is in decline, this is partially compensated for by the growth of BVOD services. The appetite to consume high-quality content for several hours a day remains, albeit fragmented across screens. BARB’s new multiple-screen viewing data give us insight into how programmes are viewed across TV sets, PCs, tablets and smartphones. For example, in 2018, Love Island gained up to 27% incremental viewing uplift from non-TV devices, while Family Guy gained up to 8% uplift. Nonetheless, as a whole, non-TV set devices add less than 2% to TV set viewing; the TV set remains the favoured means of viewing. And despite these additional data on device consumption, we remain none the wiser as to the incremental reach BVOD can offer to a linear television campaign across all screens.

Using BVOD to supplement reach is centred in a linear television-first approach to planning. Interestingly, another aspect of BARB’s data suggests that alternative approaches could be sensible to deliver impact in a fragmented viewing world. BARB can now measure viewing to programmes on BVOD services before they are broadcast. For example, 1.15m people chose to watch the second episode of Save Me via Sky On Demand pre-broadcast on TV sets; this was more than half of the total TV set audience of 2.19m. This increased throughout the series, with the final episode watched by 83% of people via Sky On Demand pre-broadcast.

Understanding how programmes are consumed influences how we approach planning. A linear-first approach misses the opportunity to reach audiences when the content is at its most valuable; when it’s providing the watercooler moment. We should instead be moving towards an audience and content-first approach – buying the right programming, at the right time for greatest impact amongst viewers.

The need to re-evaluate our planning approach becomes even more prominent when we consider that changes in consumer behaviour are starkest among younger audiences. Ad-supported YouTube and SVOD services such as Netflix and Amazon remain the top challengers to television’s incumbent media owners. BARB’s measure of unidentified viewing – where the TV set is used to do something other than watch a BARB-reported channel or BVOD service – includes viewing to SVOD services and online platforms. In 2018, unidentified viewing accounted for 48 daily minutes for all individuals, rising to 71 minutes for 16-34-year-olds. Greater insight into this consumption would be very much welcomed.

YouTube has expressed a willingness to be part of BARB’s Joint Industry Currency (JIC) model, but in its own words it wants to be “represented appropriately and fairly”. Here remains a fundamental problem with reconciling television and online viewing. Television is measured by impacts in units of 30 seconds, whereas online is measured by impressions with no time exposure element. For the two to be comparable, we need to use duration-based measurement for online viewing. Everything needs to be clearly labelled so we aren’t comparing apples and pears.

Meanwhile, addressable television is on the rise but is far from ubiquitous. In order to realise the long-promised future where television is a more efficient, targeted and digital-like medium, we need to reach a point where content and distribution are more vertically integrated. In this future, new measurement opportunities may complement the data offered by BARB through the likes of set-top box data. A more digital-like television future offers the opportunity to deliver precision at scale.

Trusted and accurate measurement remains essential to accountability, planning and optimisation, and increasingly so in a world where we see displacement, fragmentation and disruption. Ultimately, we need to understand the value that each exposure drives for advertisers. The outcomes are what are important; measurement allows us to link exposure to value.

The industry must come up with a measurement solution enabling better understanding of viewing patterns across all screens and channels. This is still some years away, even in the most advanced markets. BARB’s Project Dovetail in the UK is setting the example, although we must remain patient before we achieve multiple-screen advertising campaign performance. Regardless, the JIC principles underpinning Barb should not be weakened or compromised.

Despite everything, linear television has sustained advertiser demand, giving the impression that it is as effective and essential as ever, but for how long, and in what balance relative to the alternatives?

Emma Moorhead, Head of Activation Planning, Wavemaker