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Joe Lewis 

Ipso post facto

Ipso post facto

Like too many political campaigns, some in the media industry are promoting falsehoods to fit a biased agenda. With ample evidence, BARB's Joe Lewis sets the record straight.

We live in a strange new world. In politics, in media, fact and truth have been replaced with mis-truth and hearsay. Of course we are used to publishers and advertising practitioners alike trying to push an angle to suit their own commercial interests. But where in the past this was driven by sound and robust research, today we are driven by assumption and at times ignorance, with a message repeated ad infinitum, until it exists in our mind-set as reality.

At a recent conference, a senior planner from a respectable media agency stood on the platform and stated to my surprise "of course young people prefer to watch TV on their smartphones these days". This statement was met with no challenge or counter. But let's think about it: young people 'prefer' to watch TV on their mobiles.

I guess it must be that tremendous immersive environment you get on a 4-inch screen or the fantastic shared viewing experience that only a smartphone can offer. He's stated it as fact, so it must be true. Those young people don't want a 40-inch ultra HD screen; they prefer to watch everything on their smartphones. Glad that's been sorted out.

As is often the case, it was a statement made as fact, but lacking evidence, to suit the particular narrative. I sat there quietly scoffing under my breath but also allowing the narrative to go un-objected as many in the audience nodded away. Surely someone else in the room will put this guy right? They didn't.

chart-1

Source: BARB, Kantar Media Infosys (excluding Radio via TV)

It's time we stopped allowing misconceptions to manifest into fact. Let's start with television viewing. As mentioned, the misconception is that people are turning away from the TV set - some people 'prefer' smaller screens after all. But is that true? If we only look at traditional 7-day TV viewing, then we do see declines.

In part, this is a definition issue. At BARB, the main definition of television viewing is 7-day consolidated. However, that only explains a portion of the TV set use. With new ways in which to consume TV, through VOD and multi-tuner PVRs, is it even any wonder that the contribution of 7-day broadcast has declined? Have we lost love with TV set itself? Well, let's have a look at a bit of evidence.

In addition to 7-day TV, BARB also reports on 8-28 day time-shifted viewing and 29+ day Sky+ time-shifted viewing as well as the totality of other content that does not conform to the 28-day broadcast window. This includes extended PVR usage, archive VOD, SVOD, games console use etc.

So, looking at the first 6 months of the year against last year, we can see that 7-Day TV viewing has declined per person by 1.2%. The death of TV I hear you say. But if we factor in other uses, then actual TV set viewing is pretty much unchanged. Oh, hang on. Going further, children's viewing - which has declined by 6.8% in terms of 7-day broadcast - has only declined 2.2% when other content on the TV set is taken into account.

Probably most interesting are 16-24s (those pesky young people) who have seen their broadcast TV decline by 6.9%. But, from what can be seen, they are not turning away from the TV set to their other devices. They are still in the main using their TV sets, but just watching less 7-day broadcast with their overall TV set viewing unchanged.

chart2

Source: BARB, Kantar Media Infosys

So, in addition to 7-day TV viewing, there is additional 32% of viewing to the TV set outside of the broadcast window by 16-24s. A significant proportion of this is through games consoles, although it is unclear how much of that usage is game playing as opposed to other media use.

In any case there is a bigger story here at play, which suggests for young people there is no loss of love for the TV set at all; just some nuanced change in how they are consuming some of the content on it.

This is an entirely different narrative than some commentators would like to promote, but it is a very important story all the same. If the last year has taught us anything, it’s that in a post-truth world we have a duty to challenge misconceptions. By allowing statements that we know are untrue to go unchallenged, are we not part of the problem itself?

With this in mind, BARB plans to begin officially publishing total TV screen use in 2017. This will hopefully present the true use of the TV set in its entirety.

Until then, you can probably expect to hear me grumbling a little louder at conferences.


Joe Lewis is deputy research director at BARB

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Nick Hewat, Commercial Director, Guardian News and Media on 14 Dec 2016
“Joe, I used to work in radio and our cumulative statistics (like yours here) were always challenged - we were asked to separate the BBC and Commercial radio. I'm intrigued to see how different the numbers are if you did the same here because at the heart of this for the ad industry is whether all demographic audiences are still watching TV ads - more, less, the same - or whether we are living in a London Netflix / Amazon Prime media bubble”
Ian Dowds, CEO, UKOM on 14 Dec 2016
“Joe, I will join you grumbling louder. I am still surprised and disheartened by the number of "bloke down the pub said" stats and numbers that are presented as fact. Having recently been called out by a conference panelist with "uh-oh, look out, stat checker is in the room" after I questioned the veracity and source of some 'facts' (and corrected them) that had been stated by a fellow panelist, I resolved to continue to do so. I encourage others to also and with rigour because it matters. Being fastidious about facts as opposed to 'in-my-experience-i.e.-self-interested-panel-of-one' claims is not glamorous. Clarifying a source as independent and trustworthy is not exciting. It IS important. We may as well all (and I don't just mean we who work in measurement organisations) pack up and go home if it isn't.”