In pursuit of a universal metric for cinema and TV

09 Apr 2019  |  Luke Randall 
In pursuit of a universal metric for cinema and TV

Exclusive to Netflix: Roma, directed by Alfonso Cuarón

The separation between TV and cinema in terms of budgets, artistic vision and viewing figures is narrowing, writes Luke Randall. Intriguingly, the same might be true of the metrics that media agencies use for them too.

There was a well-publicised difference of opinion between Steven Spielberg and Netflix in the wake of Alfonso Cuaron’s Best Director win for ‘Roma’ at this year’s Oscars (read what you will into the fact that Spielberg’s Amazing Stories then appeared in the trailer for rival streaming service Apple TV+, of course).

While the awards do exist to celebrate cinematic achievements, the distinctions between big and small screen releases have been eroding for at least two decades. We’re currently in another Golden Age of television, with HD televisions in practically every home and shows like Game of Thrones and Westworld on as large and impressive a scale as anything you might see on the silver screen.

When you compare TV to cinema, the separation between each medium in terms of budgets, artistic vision – and with the arrival of the global VOD networks – viewing figures, is becoming less pronounced. The same, intriguingly, might even be true of the metrics that media agencies use for them.

What is certainly clear is that the arrival of Netflix has changed the conversation in the agency world. We’ve long known that there are ‘TV’ brands and ‘cinema’ brands, with ads in the latter often leveraging the big screen and surround sound. Just look at the number of impressive car ads that accompany a blockbuster movie these days.

But this is changing too, with tech brands like Spotify and Google able to go to either and willing to be more adventurous in how they advertise. Just as previously ‘small screen’ brands are now more willing to advertise in cinemas, so the ‘big screen’ brands are more willing to take advantage of the increasingly cinematic world of television.

This is further highlighted by a commercial element to the growing rivalry. Organisations such as DCM are repositioning how they talk about film packages in terms of TV equivalences, which provides a common language for media buyers and might suggest cinema is understanding its need to simplify rather than complicate to better sell its inventory.

Is it also perhaps that we’re seeing the first small steps towards advertisers and agencies doing the same with a universal metric across both cinema and TV? Will it lead to better outcomes for brands as the lines between art, science and data begin to blur?

In addition, Netflix’s decision to finally release – albeit non verified – audience figures this January was a shot across the bows for the entertainment sector. Even if that data should be taken with a large pinch of salt, it’s clear that Netflix and other Subscription VOD (SVOD) services are grabbing an increasing share of the market and putting greater pressure than ever on traditional linear TV.

But is it as pronounced as some might think? According to recent Thinkbox research, the number of overall minutes per day adults spend watching video services has increased from 248 minutes in 2012 to 261 in 2018. Linear TV still has the overwhelmingly lion’s share, even if it’s gone down from 84% to 76%. The whole viewing market has gone up, with more options for everyone.

And at the same time, only the heaviest 20% of Netflix viewers watch more Netflix than broadcast TV, while other viewers still watch more traditional TV than Netflix.

This suggests that all TV, whether VOD or linear, still has a vital role to play and the rivalry isn’t just between cinema and Netflix but between cinema and all of television. That’s just as well for advertisers, as Netflix is seemingly in no hurry to adopt ads as it continues to grow its subscriber base. It may transition to a Spotify-style ‘pay to not have ads’ model in the future, but that’s unlikely to happen in the short term.

With the lines blurring between cinema and TV, perhaps the universal metric idea of TV equivalences isn’t such an outlandish one after all. Cinema audiences are up and the medium is booming, while TV has never been stronger, seemingly bolstered rather than hamstrung by the arrival of streaming services. If advertisers want to take advantage of those markets together, extra simplification in their measurement is not an unreasonable request.

Luke Randall is a senior AV executive at media agency UM

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17 Jun 2019 

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