Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising


Published in Nov-Dec 2017

What happens when attention spans come at a premium.

Nope. TV is (still) king! But this isn’t coming from a typical agency guy trying to defend his most lucrative source of commission;

I am aware of its shortfalls versus other media in the mix. TV in Pakistan (and pretty much everywhere else on the planet) is still not directly interactive. And most importantly, you can no longer reach everybody through TV. However, while digital advertising keeps making all the headlines, TV is still king within the media mix for marketers in Pakistan. This cannot just be a case of absolute love for TV in the hearts of local marketers. There must be some rationale, some data that supports the argument in favour of loyalty to TV’s royal status. Right?

A closer look at global viewership data and post campaign analysis seems to suggest that TV’s influence and power have somewhat reduced. So while TV still stands as royalty, the balance of power is shifting to digital video. According to Adweek’s Global Survey 2017, viewership is moving away from linear television to online. This shift is particularly true among younger audiences, with 13% less of them watching traditional TV year-on-year, while spending more time on over-the-top (OTT) platforms (audio, video, and other media transmitted via the internet). Proponents of TV’s royal stature argue that declining viewership trends among the young worldwide has not affected the local media landscape much, and in fact viewership is growing. For a nation with a rapidly multiplying population, viewership will always seem to be increasing. It is the quality and attention of that viewership which is declining and I don’t think we completely appreciate that yet. Attention is the currency of our time and the attention of audience is increasingly moving away from TV toward mobile devices and social media.

According to Tubular Insights, 87% of Millennials are never without their smartphones and 92% of them browse on other devices while watching TV – and when doing so, they often use second-screen devices to log on to social networks. Our attention is a resource and these devices are now getting more of it compared to TV. Before my digital advertising friends start jumping with joy, this does not mean TV is dying or that digital advertising will work better than its conventional counterpart.

Here is a case study from Pakistan. Blitz Advertising (the full service advertising agency I work at) ventured into content three years ago. Our first big break was winning the media and broadcast rights to PSL (Pakistan Super League) for the first three years. This was the first time an ad agency in Pakistan took the bold step of investing in content on such a massive scale and we learnt a great deal through our experience. Blitz also had the online and broadcast rights to Leisure League (remember Ronaldinho playing ball in Pakistan?) and the Independence Cup 2017 (WorldXI vs Pakistan – International T20s).

Let me share viewership data for TV versus digital from these events. For the sake of putting a compelling argument in favour of digital, the numbers for TV were run on an urban youth-centric target audience group by our media research team because this group has the highest internet penetration in Pakistan. For the sake of simplicity, the research team only used reach as a measure here.

This is the case for cricket. The live stream views delivered for PSL and the Independence Cup combined were above a million (0.74+0.32). No other sports or entertainment event in the history of Pakistan saw more digital live stream views, but is that number enough to say that TV is a powerless royalty now? No, but the numbers are not enough to say that TV has nothing to worry about either. The half-a-million people who viewed these two major sports events live on a mobile instead of a TV screen were under 100,000 when PSL’s first season was streaming live through YouTube in 2016.

“This is life now: one constant, never-ending stream of non-sequiturs and self-referential garbage that passes in through our eyes and out of our brains at the speed of a touch-screen.”

Mark Mason

The data I have shared here is not kept in a safe marked ‘classified’, so why are so many marketers going on and on about TV’s imminent death? Apart from the ‘fashionability’ of this statement, the real answer can be found in the international news headlines. For instance, the broadcast of the 89th Academy Awards in February this year, delivered one of the smallest Oscars audiences in modern TV history. According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, the broadcast delivered 32.9 million viewers and a 9.1 rating among adults between 18 and 49 (the 2016 Academy Awards drew a 10.4 rating). This means targeted viewers were down 13% compared to 2016’s broadcast. Once again, we are talking about one of TV’s most sought-after pieces of content, which still finished the season ranked first among all general entertainment programmes. This, combined with a record growth in the number of unique visitors for the ceremony’s live stream on digital, made the headlines look more like an obituary for American TV. Without thinking twice, we just assume this is true for Pakistan too, using terms like ‘the near future’. Digital audiences in Pakistan are growing at a manageable pace, so there is enough time for content producers as well as advertisers to research, plan and prepare for this ‘not-so-near’ future.

The number of online viewers in Pakistan will keep growing, a lot of which will be multi-screen views. If you have bet all your money on TV, then you are in for a surprise. If you have done the opposite, you already know the surprise. Without a shadow of a doubt, this presents a huge opportunity for brands in Pakistan, as clutter on TV further fuels sky-rocketing prices. Nevertheless, there are some factors marketers should keep in mind regardless of their choice of bet:

1 The young in Pakistan are still visual, even if they aren’t as heavily engaged on TV as their predecessors. Video is still the most powerful medium to showcase brand personalities as well as increasing engagement.

2 As a marketer, it is your job to identify the key passion points of your target audience and figure out what video content will resonate with your brand and your consumers. Brands need to invest in research and leverage behavioural data both online and offline. But...

3 Unlike traditional consumer research, social behavioural data is dynamic and real time just like the consumer’s social profiles. Social media is just a digital version of a consumer who is constantly updated with information about his or her daily life and passion points. Brands looking to strengthen their customer relationships should focus on the personalisation of social before they start spending heavily on TV.

4 Search has an amazing role to play for offline, especially TV. Google have documented the interaction of new and old media in their search statistics and found a strong relationship between specific televised ads and a spike in searches on the topic of the ad. The relationship between online and offline behaviour works in both directions, so one is not supreme over the other.

Brands need to learn from these recent TV event ratings and create strong, relevant and medium-neutral strategies using real-time insights in order to succeed in the constantly evolving media ecosystem of Pakistan.

Coming back to my original question: has digital media shrunk my TV? It hasn’t – but the media landscape of today has shrunk our attention spans. If you look at it through a lens of simplicity, advertising has always been about luring audiences into consuming a piece of communication. Irrespective of the medium, it has always depended on the amount and the quality of the attention.

Marketers ahead of the curve value attention more than any other variable. Perhaps it is because the way we pay attention has changed. How often do you sit and spend focused time on one thing, never flipping between different tasks? For most of us, it’s pretty rare, if not never. So while our ability to multitask has improved, our attention is fragmented and hard to retain.

My favourite modern day writer, Mark Mason, sums it up beautifully:

“This is life now: one constant, never-ending stream of non-sequiturs and self-referential garbage that passes in through our eyes and out of our brains at the speed of a touch-screen.”

You have two choices; embrace the change or brace for the impact of change! Either way, change is the only constant in our equation.

Umair Saeed is COO, Blitz Advertising.