This could be a slightly obvious and pedantic post, but something keeps niggling at me when I read reports about changing audience behaviours around broadcast media. A lot of reports are using the word ‘TV” very loosely – sometimes to refer to specific broadcast models, sometimes to refer to all video watching in general. We’re seeing big changes in the way audiences find and consume video, and this sloppy use of the word ‘TV’ isn’t helping us see how the industry is changing. So I wanted to write up some notes on what we mean when we use the word ‘TV’, and how we need to be more specific in our language from now on.
The recent Telescope report on TV Viewing in the UK reports that we own fewer TV sets than 10 years ago (1.83 per household, down from 2.3 in 2003), yet we’re watching over four hours of ‘TV’ per day, up from 3 hours and 36 minutes in 2003.
This is a really interesting report, looking in detail at changing behaviours in media consumption, and with a very innovative ‘TeleHappiness’ report that shows what kinds of content makes us happy in different parts of the UK (sport in Wales, comedy pretty much everywhere). But the news coverage of the report uses the word ‘TV’ to describe three different things, a mistake made by many people analysing the current media market, not least in similar reports about the the TV ad industry body Thinkbox’s recent report on on-demand viewing.
For most of the last 50 years, the phrase ‘TV’ was a useful catch-all phrase covering three things – the business model of broadcast TV, the content commissioned by TV broadcasters, and the box in the corner we used to watch broadcast TV. Over the last 10 years, those three things have started to split from each other, and the split is getting more pronounced every year. The risk is that research or analysis of audience behaviour that doesn’t take account for this split will be increasingly inaccurate, and will make it harder to put emerging audience behaviours in the correct context.
So I think it’s time we started being more specific with our use of terminology when talking about audiences and their media consumption:
Televisions are the boxes in the corner. They are still mainly used for watching broadcast content, but they’re also hooked up to games consoles, the internet, and other non-linear sources of content. We might own fewer TVs in our homes, but this is partly because we’re using other devices, like laptops, mobile and tablets, to replace the secondary Televisions we used to have around the home. The market for selling TVs is starting to flatten out after years of growth as customers switched to large flat panel digital TVs. With the ongoing financial situation looking bleak, and 3D not driving sales as much as predicted, its likely that UK TV sales will continue to plateau.
Video is the content itself – the audiovisual content that we consume on an ever-increasing number of different devices. The combination of broadband adoption and smartphone/tablet sales has hugely increased the consumption of Video on devices that aren’t traditional TVs – for example, 23% of iPlayer content is delivered to mobile phones or tablets. Online video is probably the fastest growing media sector at the moment, and this is driven by social circulation and other emerging behaviours, not traditional distribution. For example, AdAge reports that 85% of the audience for M&Ms’ 2012 Superbowl ad was driven by social circulation, not traditional paid media. If you’re a production company making video things are looking pretty rosy – there’s never been more people looking to invest in making video – eg Youtube or Netflix – or more places to put video so it can be found and shared by audiences. This is only likely to increase in the next few years.
Broadcast is the traditional business model for delivering video content to TVs in people’s homes. It relies on huge investment in distribution technologies over digital transmitters, cable or satellite, requires regulatory approval, and involves commissioning or acquiring content to fill separately branded channels that usually run for 24 hours a day. Commercial broadcasters rely on selling advertisements inserted into broadcast content to fund their business models. Broadcast TV’s share of the total ad market has been broadly flat in the last few years, with fluctuations based on major events like the Olympics. Current predictions are for a small contraction in the market in the UK after a modest growth in 2012. The trend for individual channel share has been downwards, as overall viewing has split across channels as UK audiences switched to digital TVs with many more channels available. Most broadcasters have managed this transition through launching portfolios of channels to keep their overall share up despite this fragmentation. Channel 4, for example, has seen its overall share go up from 10.3% to 11.2%, whilst the BBC and ITV portfolios have seen a reduction in share. This increased portfolio brings with it increased costs, as each new channel in the portfolio means more marketing and commissioning expenditure. New players like Lovefilm, Netflix and more recently Tesco’s Clubcard TV offer archive content from broadcasters and film producers on demand without having the regulatory or scheduling requirements of traditional Broadcasters. As a result, outlooks for growth for traditional broadcasters is mixed. Increasing ad sales inventory usually means launching new channels, which adds huge ongoing costs, whilst overall ad prices are being squeezed as media buyers shift investment to digital and other platforms. Only broadcasters with a direct transactional relationship with the customer – such as subscription channels like Sky or HBO – have some insurance against the flattening digital ad sales market. Put simply, if you’re reliant on traditional display advertising around free to air linear channels for your broadcasting business model, you’re looking at flat growth in the next few years, and possibly decline.
So – TV is the box in the corner, Video is the medium, and Broadcast is the business model. When we talk about the state of our industries, and their potential futures, lets be more specific in our language. If you’re talking about broadcast media (as Thinkbox and BARB do – their stats only refer to content produced by the major broadcasters, not Youtube, Netflix or other VOD providers) then use the definition ‘Broadcast TV’, not just ‘TV’.
The thing that we’re all watching more of is Video – online, on TVs over broadcast channels, on our phones and tablets, on Xbox’s, or whatever. TV is increasingly too small a definition, with too much historical baggage, to capture the way video consumption is growing.
And yes, I’m quite aware that I made the same mistake myself in an earlier post on Storythings. I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again…