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IAB report proves people are making less tea

Our friends at the Internet Advertising Bureau have released some baffling research to announce the “decline of the TV-centric living room”.

You can read it here, but their main point is that they think “devices compete equally with TV for consumer attention in the modern living room”.

It’s clearly a piece of research set out to undermine TV and so, as the marketing body for TV, we have to respond.

Firstly, the IAB doesn’t mean TV. They mean “the TV”.

We watch increasing amounts of TV on those self-same devices too and interestingly the most common location to do so is the living room.

Their research shows that people do other things while they watch TV. True. But we’ve always done other things while watching the TV and we always will.

Using connected devices is just the latest activity. But, importantly for advertisers, we often use them with TV to talk about what we’re watching or to research/buy things we see in TV ads. The TV/online marriage is in great health, with its effectiveness increasing in recent years.

Let’s put the use of other screens with TV in perspective. The IPA’s Touchpoints study shows that, on average we spend 38 minutes a day multi-screening, which equates to 18% of the time we spend watching TV. For 16- to 34-year-olds it is higher at about a third of the time they spend watching TV.

But no one is swapping the TV set for other screens – time spent with TV sets has increased in recent years. People may well be swapping books or newspapers for tablets and smartphones though.

The IAB’s research shows that, in a world filled with screens at every turn and in every pocket, the TV set continues to dominate for most of us. 50% of the people in their survey readily admitted that the TV set is the focal point of the living room – and this when we know that people are notoriously reluctant to talk up their TV viewing.

Was anyone asked before? This could have increased. More sensibly, maybe there just isn’t a focal point in the living room? If you want to gauge the role of TV in the living room then you only need look at the way furniture is almost always meticulously orientated to face the TV.

The IAB also employ a strange correlation. They say “the declining ‘kettle power surge’ during ad breaks in over the last 25 years provides more evidence of the change in the traditional rhythm of the living room”.

But this just suggests people are using their kettles less. Maybe they are having a glass of wine instead of tea? We know they are spread out over more TV channels and ad breaks than 25 years ago because there is more choice.

We also know multi-screeners are more likely to stay in front of the TV set during the ad break than non-multi-screeners – good news for advertisers, bad news for kettles.

Is this the decline of kettle? No. This is the internet industry worrying about screen hierarchy. They have done so before. The IAB thinks the term ‘second-screening’ is redundant.

OK, we tend to use the term multi-screening here. But the term ‘second screen’ is useful in as much as it talks about the blossoming relationship between the TV set and connected devices and the chronology of that relationship.

It is not about hierarchy and never has been. Internet-connected, personal devices are often used to react to what is on (the) TV. It doesn’t work the other way round.

There is no need to get hung up on which is the most important screen in our lives or living rooms. We use different screens for different things in different places.

We use all of them to watch TV – and Thinkbox doesn’t care which you choose when. But, regardless of the screen, watching TV continues to dominate the media day for all age groups. It won’t necessarily be done by itself, but it never has been.

It is interesting that nowhere does the IAB’s research address the relative effectiveness of advertising across devices and how to best use them together, which is surely what matters most and will be the core question for advertisers?

I’m off to put the kettle on.


  • Matt Hill
    Matt Hill
    Research & Planning Director, Thinkbox
  • Posted under
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