Brits Watch More Ads Than Ever

TV-Spot Viewings Peak at 2.25 Billion Per Day in Spite of DVRs, Web Competition

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LONDON ( -- Despite the runaway popularity of digital video recorders and fierce competition from the internet, TV viewers in the U.K. are watching more ads than ever before.
Tess Alps, chief executive of Thinkbox, the marketing body for U.K. commercial television.
Tess Alps, chief executive of Thinkbox, the marketing body for U.K. commercial television.

Commercial viewings reached an all-time-high average of 2.25 billion a day in the U.K. for 2007, according to the Broadcasters' Audience Research Board, which measures in-home TV viewing. That's an average of 40 ads a day per person and an increase of 3.9% over the previous year.

Average to upscale households, along with 16- to 24-year-olds -- two key audiences for advertisers -- both increased their commercial viewing last year. The first group watched an average of 32 ads a day, a jump of 3.6%; and the latter group also viewed 32 ads daily, up 1.5% compared with 2006.

Forgetting to skip
To register for Barb's measurement, ads have to be watched at normal speed. So what's to account for the rise in commercial viewing despite the prevalence of DVRs? Some industry observers believe they are so ubiquitous that viewers almost forget they are using them and don't think to fast-forward through the ads. In November 2007, satellite-TV network Sky reported 14% quarterly growth in subscribers to Sky Plus (the U.K.'s most popular DVR), up 323,000 on the previous quarter to 2.7 million.

The increase in commercial TV viewing is in part due to further digital-TV penetration (now in 85% of U.K. homes) and the increased viewing of digital channels. People now watch an average of 11 minutes more commercial TV than they did a decade ago.

Overall, the average Brit watches 3.63 hours of TV a day, a slight increase over the average of 3.59 hours per day a decade ago, in 1997. Of those 3.63 hours, 2.24 hours are spent watching commercial TV, and the rest of the time is spent tuned in to the BBC, which doesn't accept advertising.

"This is historic news for advertisers," said Tess Alps, chief executive of Thinkbox, the marketing body for U.K. commercial television. "TV advertising had an impressive 2007: increased impacts, a creative renaissance and new commercial opportunities on the emerging platforms for TV. Challenges remain, but TV has new ways for brands to reach audiences, who can be as engaged with TV advertising as they are with the programs."

Internet competition?
Though usually a booster of broadcast, Ms. Alps contends that TV can prosper simultaneously with online media. "People online are doing stuff they used to do in the real world like shopping, banking and socializing. The internet has not diminished the demand for the immersive, relaxed entertainment that TV offers."

She cites research from a joint Microsoft and MTV study that ranks TV as 16- to 24-year-olds' second-favorite activity after listening to music. "We know that young people are huge fans of commercial TV, watching as much now as they did 10 years ago and using it as the source for on- and offline conversations and creativity," she said. "The challenge is for advertisers and agencies to embrace the new TV landscape."

Les Binet, European director of DDB Matrix, said he believes that young people use the internet as a substitute for spending time with friends rather than as a substitute for TV viewing. "The hype about the death of television has been massively overblown," he said. "Digital is making TV even stronger, and it is becoming more cost-effective for advertisers."
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