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TV advertising: how Covid-19 has impacted the UK market

22 Apr 2020  |  Raymond Snoddy 
TV advertising: how Covid-19 has impacted the UK market

Regulated TV and its advertising is likely to emerge with an enhanced reputation from the current crisis, writes Ray Snoddy

Lockdown the country, and most of the developed world, and you would expect people to reach for their screens and they are.

All screens have received an upward boost – streamers, commercial broadcasters, public service broadcasters - anyone with the information and entertainment to offer and a means to deliver it to a captive audience.

The greatest irony of course is that the moment of maximum opportunity comes with a near universal shutdown of new production of films, drama and soaps, everything apart from live, unscripted programming.

Happily there is enough in the can, and enough imagination in the industry, to outlast the most stubborn of pandemics.

The dramatic numbers are already coming through and it’s not just Amazon that’s cleaning up in a crisis.

The pandemic is clearly going to be good news for Netflix with 15.8 million subscribers added in the three months to the end of March compared with 8.8 million in the final quarter of last year.

It would not be surprising if April and May turned on more after-burners for Netflix subscription numbers and take the market capitalisation of the company through the $200 billion mark.

The medium term questions remain – how many of the new subscriptions will stick when populations emerge into the daylight and how will Netflix cope with the new competing streamers? The speed with which Disney+ reached 50 million subscribers is one indication of intensifying competition to come.

Good old fashioned telly is however having a great time with viewing levels up across the board by as much as a third while viewing by children has increased by nearly a half.

The latest weekly TV report from Thinkbox for the week ending April 19th shows an 18 per cent lift year-on year for individuals, with ABC1 adults continuing to see the biggest uplift for three weeks in a row.

The strong need for the latest news is also helping to keep live viewing ahead of time-shifting, a phenomenon that should increase the impact of television advertising.

Some chunky viewing figures for individual programmes are coming through.

The ITV drama Quiz on the Millionaire coughing scandal attracted an average of 5.5 million - and 5.8 million for the finale.

Viewing figures for Countdown on Channel 4 are up by more than 60 per cent including a doubling of younger viewers.

This much you would expect, but what is remarkable is the creativity that has gone into producing watchable programmes, and relevant, quality advertising, in the most difficult circumstances.

Remotely produced Have I Got News For You, after an initial shaky start, is now something to look forward to again and Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway produced peaks of 11 million without having a studio audience.

Television advertising was initially, if inadvertently, embarrassing as all those pre-booked holiday ads trundled on as if nothing had happened.

Within a matter of weeks the ads are now not only relevant but often manage to reflect in subtle ways the current reality of many lives – promoting products that can be ordered online and delivered with men wearing gloves and masks.

Unsurprisingly there has been a huge boost in search results for patio cleaner company Karcher, driven by TV advertising.

Partly due to current events there is a huge opportunity for both public service television, and the advertising industry in particular, to emerge from this crisis with increased kudos and trust.

For commercial television there have been imperfections at the margins but communications regulator Ofcom has been swift to act against nonsense on Covid-19 and 5G phone masts from Eamonn Holmes and notorious conspiracy theorist David Icke.

Overall, television news and current affairs, has been the go-to place for reliable, trustworthy information.

Circumstances have also bestowed gravitas and public service intent on the advertising industry, which has been producing punchy information designed to encourage the population to do the maximum to keep themselves safe.

Can it really be nearly 10 years since the Government pulled the plug on the Central Office of Information?

Things are obviously tough now for the advertising industry with whole sectors having to understandably absent themselves from the market for now.

If they can possibly afford to advertisers should continue to keep their brands before the public eye, possibly in the form of public service information for the moment.

On the assumption that there will be a phased return to normality over time with sector after sector returning to the market, so there will be a phased rise in TV advertising.

Consumers will initially be cautious, and may at least for some time modify their behaviour, but it is television advertising that will perform the role of harbinger of economic recovery.

There has to be a word of warning. The advertising industry has been very careless in the past over who it is prepared to get into bed with – or more precisely push its clients into bed with.

Trust always depended on context and now that it can be a matter of life and death the industry simply has to wake up and absolutely know where its online ads are appearing.

There are almost endless conspiracy theories out there of which perhaps the link between Covid-19 and 5G masts, which has led to many masts being damaged, is the most egregious.

They range from saying the virus was stolen out of Canadian labs by Chinese spies and claims that a group funded by Bill Gates patented the virus, plus quack cures, such as garlic and high doses of Vitamin C as effective treatments.

All total, ridiculous, mad nonsense of course but still getting hundreds of thousands of likes on social media, sometimes they even pass the million mark.

If the likes of Facebook are trying to hunt and take down such stuff, and they probably are, it is equally probable that they never can.

It behoves the supporters of programmatic advertising to ensure that respectable companies keep rather more than two metres away from such garbage.

Regulated television and regulated television advertising should manage to emerge with enhanced reputation from the current crisis.

In the more sombre and chastened world that will emerge, they will too be very careful about the company they keep.

The Future of TV Advertising UK is a two-week content experience running from April 20 – May 1 powered by Videonet and Mediatel News. Make sure you sign up for the bulletins for the daily updates and sign-up for the free streamed event that will take place on April 30 by registering here.

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08 Jul 2020 

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