Is On Demand TV Killing TV Advertising?

Sometime in the late 1990s, the responsibility for the negotiation and purchase of advertising time and space, or media buying, was “unbundled” from the advertising agency, and placed in the hands of specific media investment management companies.  These media buyers plan advertising investments and, by building strong relationships with media owners, are able to negotiate the price and placement to ensure the best possible value is achieved for an advertisement, and that advertising campaigns are exposed to the right target audience in the most effective place possible. It all sounds pretty simple but, in reality, buying a 30-second TV advertising slot is a pretty complex business.

A 2013 survey by Ofcom found that UK households spend three times as much time watching television as they do using the internet, and that they are watching more commercial television than a decade ago.  There is also a greater choice of TV channels than ever before and that, combined with the fact that the cost of TV advertising has reduced over the past decade, means that it is now easier than ever for television media buyers to reach specific target audiences.

The more tightly-defined a target audience, the higher the relative cost per person reached, and there are many different ways of narrowing down that target audience.  For example, the cost of television advertising varies by season, with autumn being the most expensive time of year and January generally being the cheapest.  TV advertising can also be purchased on a national or regional level.  Specific programmes can be targeted, with high-profile, top-ratings programmes such as soaps being the most expensive.  The time of day that a TV ad is transmitted can affect the cost, with the evening commanding the highest prices.  Finally, the length of a commercial can obviously make a significant difference to cost.

However, the world of media buying and TV advertising is set to face some new challenges as consumers viewing behaviours continue to evolve.  Gone are the days when TV programmes are simply watched on, well, the television set.  On-demand viewing and “TV anywhere” options have expanded the range of platforms on which consumers watch television and there is far more access to original professional content on sites like YouTube that won’t ever be broadcast on traditional television channels.  In addition, the use of targeted “addressable” advertising and programmatic buying, already heavily in use in the world of digital media buying, is a factor that will need consideration in the changing landscape of television advertising.

So, whilst in some agencies, the TV and the digital planning teams at agencies are separate and measure success differently, they both want the same thing: to reach their respective target audience.  Consumers are becoming harder to reach on traditional television but the online audience is vast.  Conversely, TV advertising brings huge buying power.   Media buying by both the TV advertising and online teams need not detract from each other.  Indeed, they should complement each other and look at media buying in a more holistic way moving forwards.