Despite increasing competition from other forms of media, TV ratings are up in 2010. Time spent viewing television is up, Free TV’s reach is at a four-year high and average audiences across key demographics have increased year-on-year. This year has also seen record ratings for programs across all of the three networks. Are you surprised by the performance of the free-to-air television platform this year?
Not at all. I believe free-to-air television has performed well in 2010 for four reasons:
1. Better Content
Throughout 2010, a combination of high performing new series (such as Modern Family, My Kitchen Rules and Survivor: Heroes vs Villains) and the return of popular series’ from 2009 across all networks (Packed to the Rafters, MasterChef; Big Bang Theory) have appealed to wider national audiences, resulting in consistently high audience numbers compared to 2009.
2. Greater Program Selection
The introduction of digital channels to the media landscape has not entirely cannibalised main channel viewers: digital channels have started to steal audiences from pay TV. The variety of programming on these digital channels is not dissimilar to that offered on a standard base package from Foxtel and Austar, rendering a subscription to STV in 2011 pointless to the remaining two-thirds of Australians currently without STV.
3. High Rating Special Events
2010’s special events have recorded high audience numbers, with Seven’s AFL Grand Finals, Nine’s State of Origin and Ten’s MasterChef all up from 2009. The biggest challenge for networks in 2011 is maintaining these numbers. With fewer special events scheduled and growing audience fragmentation, 2011 will be a testing time for the networks to deliver audiences from record numbers in 2010.
4. Increased Demand
High quality programming means higher audience delivery, which will generate advertising investment. In the current environment and in the coming months, it will be too important for clients to not have a presence on free-to-air television. With low availabilities across all major networks months out from airing, the demand for airtime will continue to rise. This is due to the perception that digital channels are now seen as a low cost to entry to generate mass reach, especially for smaller advertisers. Program performance (especially on GEM, 7mate and Eleven) will ultimately decide if this trend continues throughout 2011.
With the introduction of new free-to-air digital channels, the inclusion of PVR households in the measurement panel, the commencement of digital switchover, and the launch of 3D TV, free-to-air television has undergone more transformation in the last 18 months than it has in the last 50 years! How strong is the perception among younger media buyers that TV is a dynamic, rapidly evolving media platform?
Young media buyers do not have a choice but to view TV as a dynamic, rapidly evolving media platform with digital free-to-air channels attracting audiences away from pay TV while offering greater programming selection to wider audiences. With minimal growth in pay TV over the past few years, digital free-to-air channels deserve credit for offering greater program selection to the two-thirds of Australians without pay TV.
Australian digital TV penetration currently sits at around 75% (OzTAM, Q3, 2010) and is only set to increase as a result of the digital switchover. As the digital TV channels continue to grow and PVR measurement continues to add incremental reach to TV ratings in 2011, TV will be regarded by all media buyers as one of the most dynamic and rapidly evolving media platforms.
How well do younger media buyers understand the potential of new TV developments such as digital multi-channels, catch-up TV, and 3D TV? Are they more likely to research and recommend these new developments to their clients?
Younger media buyers do not understand the potential of new TV developments as well as they should.
Generally speaking, young media buyers lack ongoing and dedicated support from their seniors. Like their juniors, senior TV buyers/planners are also learning how best to integrate digital channels to media plans and wider agency negotiations.
As all media buyers will know, there is no one single way to buy TV. As such, teaching young media buyers how to buy TV with the inclusion of digital channels will be an ongoing challenge for senior buyers throughout 2011 as digital channel viewership continues to increase. I believe that the future of TV buying will be regarded as more of a science than an art, as audience fragmentation will mean more clients become delivery-orientated and numbers-focused as opposed to ‘environmentally’ focused. The question in 2011 will be: Why book into a program with the perfect fit if no one is watching it?
Like their seniors, young media buyers are time poor, especially TV buyers who need to evaluate program performance daily (not weekly when Nielsen’s post files are loaded) to ensure their R&F goals are achieved. Adequate research on these new media developments is essential in order to make informed and considered recommendations to clients, but it is difficult to adequately research a TV market which changes daily.
Younger online media buyers are starting to recognise the importance of catch-up TV and are more likely to consider them in their media plans, as this is a great support media space to run a 15 second or 30 second TVC.
Senior TV buyer/planners are not at fault – the digital channels have needed to prove their place on media plans. Up until 18 months ago, TV buyers/planners have needed to consider four free-to-air television channels (7, 9, 10 and SBS). When Eleven launches on 11 January, 2011, there will 12 free-to-air channels that young media buyers will need to research, evaluate, plan and buy. It is up to the senior people in agencies to take the initiative to proactively teach and develop younger media buyers in a changing media landscape.
What are the main challenges for young media buyers in such a rapidly changing media landscape?
Young media buyers will always need the support of their seniors, especially for a medium which was difficult to manage with four free-to-air channels. It seems the odds are against younger media planners who do not have the guidance of their seniors - finding time for adequate research in time poor diaries will be an ongoing challenge for both young and experienced buyers.
An ongoing challenge will be accurately predicting and forecasting rating performance of digital channels. Same time last year (STLY) ratings and program analysis will be redundant when forecasting ratings in 2011, given the increased audience fragmentation year-on-year (2010 vs 2011).
Keeping informed with changing program formats across 12 free-to-air channels in order to achieve R&F goals (especially if audited) seems like it could become a full-time job for young media buyers in 2011 – let’s hope it doesn’t!
Sales representatives need to keep agencies up-to-date and informed with updated program formats well in advance of airing. This is a huge challenge for all media buyers, regardless of age, especially considering that at the time of writing (mid-November 2010), program formats for February 2011 onwards are not yet finalised, however, network systems are open to take bookings. This means that TV buyers are securing airtime in time-zones that are not confirmed to run or rate at all – it is now more important for TV buyers to secure airtime in an even more competitive space.
Integrating digital channels into agency/client negotiations without results will be an ongoing challenge in 2011 for agency investment and trading teams. I believe that the future of agency TV negotiations will be based on guaranteed audience delivery across one network, rather than one station, with guaranteed audiences across both main and digital channels.
What do you think the biggest challenges are for television in 2011?
There are many challenges ahead for television in 2011, especially given the launch of GEM, 7mate and Eleven. As digital channels continue to grow both in audience numbers and advertising investment, the challenge is to accurately predict audience numbers.
These are what I predict will be the three biggest challenges for television in 2011:
Maintaining main channel performance despite fewer special events in 2011 and increasing audience fragmentation. As the digital channels take flight in 2011, free-to-air TV will offer greater program selection to the masses. Agencies will need to be resilient when pay TV investments become cost-inefficient as digital channels grow.
- Adapting program formats to maintain audience numbers across all channels – digital and main.
- Educating sales representatives to coherently communicate each digital channel’s position and forecasted performance to media agencies.