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The fact of the matter

26 Feb 2020  |  Raymond Snoddy 
The fact of the matter

Despite what many believe, the evidence shows traditional media is set to endure for the long-term, writes Ray Snoddy - and investors and policy makers should honour this fact

Has there ever been a time where facts, pure and simple, have been more vital both in what the media reports and about the state of the media itself.

When politicians routinely lie as never before, or almost casually say things that are almost ludicrously wrong, when the social media seems to exist to weave webs of deceit the most honourable profession of all is now that of fact checker.

But sometimes the greatest damage can be done, inadvertently, by clever people intoxicated with the purity of their big ideas.

They are the sort of people who are dissatisfied by the often messy state of where we are now with its confusing ebbs, flows and contradictions.

So much more interesting to say the mainstream media – the term is itself an intended slur – is dead or hopelessly compromised.

Newspapers? Well that’s a matter of time. The flow chart runs inevitably down hill.

Universal public service broadcasters with transmitters on hills and even satellites in geostationary orbit are becoming almost quaint, are they not?

It’s a no-brainer surely? The future lies with the internet, streaming and subscription video on demand (VOD) where everyone can simply choose what they want from an ever expanding menu of entertainment.

If you want evidence, why this very week you can pre-order Disney+ in the UK ahead of next week’s launch for a bargain £49.99 for the first 12 months.

Not only the direction of travel but the final destination is obvious.

There is only one problem with all of this. Stubborn facts, and the real behaviour of actual people have an annoying tendency to get in the way.

Such a vision hasn’t happened yet and may not in the predicted form – at least for the foreseeable future.

A few facts and analysis from a new report by Enders Analysis on media consumption in the UK should, at the very least, give the futurologists and believers in technological determinism pause for thought.

“Despite two decades of online disruption, the UK remains reliant on traditional platforms and brands across the media sector – more so for older cohorts, but also for younger generations,” is one conclusion.

Another is to point out that 13 per cent of adults still do not use the internet and “online-only media ecosystem remains a distant prospect.”

Moreover, traditional providers - particularly within TV, radio and news - look set to endure for the long-term, helped by the trajectory of the UK’s ageing population, mirrored almost everywhere across the developed world.

The Enders analysis, trying to create a single source for all media consumption, is heavily based on demographic profiles. The UK’s population growth over the rest of this decade is predicted to come largely from the 55+ cohort which will grow by 15 per cent while all younger cohorts are expected to remain relatively constant in absolute numbers.

For example a 50-year-old woman today has a life expectancy of 87 years with a 25 per cent chance of living to 95, although with men it’s 84 and 93.

And guess what, the older you are the slower you tend to change media consumption patterns.

For Enders what is truly remarkable is the continuing high levels of broadcast TV viewing despite the ever-increasing number of options for consuming media content.

Over 55 per cent of over-65s only receive broadcast TV channels via Freeview and less than 40 per cent subscribe to the main pay-TV providers such as Sky, BT and Virgin.

“It cannot be overstated how important the linear TV ecosystem is to all audiences, whether - as per Reithian values - to inform to educate or to entertain,” argues Enders who adds that no less than 96 per cent of the viewing of the over 55s is to traditional broadcasters and their online offerings.

According to Enders live radio is another often under-estimated media staple continuing to reach a broad swathe of the UK population.

Around 80 per cent of 15-34s and over 90 per cent of those aged 35+ tune in each week with the BBC accounting for nearly two thirds of listening by the over 55s.

The facts on news are that BBC One and ITV are the most used source with Facebook in third place - showing that TV remains the most-used platform among UK adults for news.

Once again demographics matter with older cohorts relying more heavily on broadcast and newspaper brands.

Among younger groups there is obviously an increasing reliance on social media to stay abreast of current affairs but social media scores lower than any other platform in terms of quality, accuracy and trustworthiness.

Most under 35s have what the Reuters Institute has called an “anchor news brand” which they use to verify breaking or important news – typically the BBC or The Guardian.

Across print and digital media, Enders emphasises, one in six of the UK population is reached everyday by the traditional news providers, although there is obviously a tail-off of print among younger demographics with print news reaching 27 per cent of those aged 35+ but only 11 per cent of the 15-34s.

“News brands are surprisingly resilient in terms of traction with consumers across both younger and older demographics,” compared with online alternatives or broadcaster counterparts Enders says.

The words “surprisingly resilient” is the sub-theme of the analysis and really it should not be such a surprise because the facts are out there, albeit spread across multiple sources.

But it is the demographics that have perhaps been surprisingly underestimated by the largely young cohort of media planners and buyers and there is going to be more of us around for far longer.

And that’s a fact that surely will influence media consumption patterns.

The other obvious, underestimated fact often ignored by the advertising community is the over 55s control a majority of the wealth of the UK, but that’s another story.

For now if you want to understand the future of the media in the UK – it’s the demographics stupid, a fact that should help inform both soothsayers and policymakers.

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