In this blog post last week, I looked at some interesting numbers from a Cisco briefing that indicated phenomenal growth in connected devices (smartphones and tablets). There’s an ongoing trend towards using these devices while watching TV, sometimes as an alternative to watching adverts, sometimes to find out more information about products shown in the ads or even in the TV shows themselves. 

For advertisers, this is either great news or truly awful news, most likely a combination of the two, but even without a smartphone in their hand, the viewing habits of the consumer are changing. 

At Partisan, we’re advocates of Permission Marketing, along with the intelligent application of its associated principles. We believe that there’s a growing need to move away from the old Interruption Marketing methodology, and when you can’t, you need to do a great job with the actual ads. Many will agree with us to a degree but most big campaigns are still heavily slanted towards the holy grail of wide reaching television, and the vast majority of TVCs do and say the same thing they always did. The creaky old TVC still reigns supreme, after all, according to Neilsen, more Kiwis watch more TV than ever before, so how can advertisers possibly lose in this captive audience environment?

While it’s true that New Zealanders are watching more TV than ever, the way they’re watching it is changing. They’re certainly not captives any longer. Journalist Pat Pilcher has been writing about technology for a long time and his recent TV related posts on consumer technology site Witchdoctor make for interesting reading: 

“At home, the way I watch TV has undergone some pretty radical changes over the past 10 years. Nowadays I hardly ever watch live TV unless it happens to involve breaking news. The arrival of hard drive recorders also means television advertising is treated with the contempt it deserves and is swiftly dealt with via the fast forward button on my remote.”

“What is most significant however, is the diminishing role that TV plays in the viewing habits of my household. We still watch a lot of TV shows, but an unlimited broadband plan means that the bulk of our idiot box content is now sourced digitally from iTunes (and thanks to the liberal use of a proxy server that spoofs a US IP address, Hulu) or sometimes YouTube (where there’s a surprisingly good selection of movies and documentaries available). Add Quickflix to the mix and there’s little reason to bother with traditional broadcast TV at all. Sometimes we even watch the on-demand content from TVNZ and Sky (both of which are excellent).”

Pat’s comments mirror the behaviour of many of the TV viewers I know. While they may well plonk themselves in front of the TV for hours every night, they treat the ads exactly as Pat described them. Channels get changed, ads get fast-forwarded, the fridge gets investigated or the toilet gets occupied – whatever happens, the ads aren’t a big priority. The situation will get even hairier for advertisers once the number of connected devices in a household reaches critical mass and everyone is just surfing away at the end of a big, fat, fast broadband plan until the TV grabs their attention again. It’s quite likely to be MasterChef, Boardwalk Empire or Sons of Anarchy that grabs them, not your ad.

The TV companies will vehemently deny that there’s anything to worry about but here are some comments from readers on the Witchdoctor site:

  • We hardly watch broadcast tv... its full of so called reality crap. Except TVNZ 7 that is, which is being killed off by our retarded government....We download all our shows, or watch them on demand, or on demand overseas via VPN.TVs aren't the one trick ponies they were...
  • We watch pretty much zero broadcast TV in our house. Using Fatso, we order DVDs (often TV shows) online, get them in the mail and watch them at our leisure before sending them back. No ads, no reality shows (no f*cking GC) and no crime drama. Even if there's a series we like on one of the channels, we just wait patiently until it comes out on DVD then either buy it or wait until Fatso has it available. We probably spend more time with books and music than with TV anyway.
  • We still watch TV, but while doing something else...I'm currently watching MySky while surfing Witchdoctor, and my partner, well she's vaguely watching and surfing who knows what on her laptop.

TV won’t disappear, it will evolve.The thing that will go the way of the dodo, is homes with numerous TV’s, littered through out the house. Instead, ‘television’ will be watched on tablets / computers / phones etc. I can already take a Freeview BluRay recorder and use it to stream TV shows directly to my iPhone – whether they’re on air, or on the HDD. So why buy a bedroom TV?

This change in behaviour seems to be widespread. A friend of mine recently wondered why he and his partner watch the good movies on TV even though they already have them on DVD. I asked if he watched the ads, his response was: “Haha, hardly... I'm usually attached to the computer screen.” 

That’s a tiny snapshot but ask around just like I have; check to see how your friends and family watch TV. Still reckon your TVC is reaching, I mean really reaching, the hundreds of thousands of people you think it is? Anyone buy the theory that the mere flash of a TVC seen before the channel is changed or the high-speed flicker of a fast-forwarded TVC is still effective?

Television is evolving. TVCs are still the gold standard but is their effectiveness dropping? What are you doing to plan for these new viewing habits? Is your advertising agency saying: “She’ll be right?” That’s what the music industry said, the publishing houses too. It’s time to think outside the square and look for new ways to reach your consumers because technology is surely giving them more ways to ignore your messages.