Our annual graph: time-shifting isn’t ad avoiding

Graph. Go on, say it. Gargle with it. Give it a good old lick. Maybe even take it to bed with you, with its promise of hard facts and revealing truths. Graphs are what get me out of bed in the morning – that and a certain unnamed fear…

I find graphs so overwhelming that I can only bring myself to publish one blog a year featuring a graph. Today is that day and this blog that blog. In previous years I have given you this  and this. This year, I offer you this: 

blogs our annual graph time shifting slide

I’ll give you a moment to call your colleagues to gather round your screen and soak up the meaning of this graph. Or perhaps you would prefer to email them the meaning, in which case here is an explanation you can cut and paste.

This graph shows two main things. First, different TV genres are time-shifted in different ways. Dramas obviously get time-shifted more, to savour at a later date or collect like a box set. Live TV formats are time-shifted less, obviously. You probably knew that. If we want to interact with TV programmes – to affect what happens on screen using our mobiles or any old phone – then live formats and live viewing are crucial. And common sense tells us that people want to see sport and news live.

Second, and perhaps more important, is that there is no significant difference in the amount of commercial TV which is recorded and played back compared with BBC equivalents. To put it another way: TV is not time-shifted in an attempt to avoid ads.

This runs contrary to the claims of those people who like to think – and boast – that they start watching every commercial TV programme fifteen minutes after its beginning so they can skip through the ad breaks. If you want to meet these people, read the comments below any article on TV advertising on MediaGuardian. They are also usually convinced TV advertising has no effect on them. But how would they know given they never watch any?

The fact is that even though we now have the ability never to watch an ad if we don’t want to, we’re watching more than ever – 47 a day each at normal speed, according to BARB (adding up to a whopping 2.7bn daily in the UK for any numberwangers out there). This is because people get digital recorders because they love TV, want more control and want to avoid missing out; they don’t get them to avoid ads – although of course we all fast-forward a recorded ad break more often than not. And in case you don’t know let me reassure you that any ad that is fast-forwarded is not included in BARB numbers, and hence is free to advertisers.

Here, should you need them, are the latest time-shifting stats from BARB for:

  • An average of 88.7% of the TV watched on a TV set in 2013 was watched live (it was 89.9% in 2012).
  • In the estimated 59% of UK households that own a digital recorder, 83.6 % was watched live compared to 84.4% in 2012.
  • 81% of all timeshifted viewing is watched within two days of recording; 47% is seen within 24 hours of it being recorded.

It looks like the growth in the amount of timeshifting is actually slowing down. Ofcom also suggested this in its recent Communications Market Report 2013. This makes sense. As on-demand viewing shifts to the TV set from other devices it is likely to take a nibble or two out of time-shifted viewing. If I had the figures – and could be certain to control myself – I’d do you another graph. But I’ll save that for another blog.

  • Neil Mortensen
    Neil Mortensen
    Former Research & Planning Director, Thinkbox
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