TV will be the ‘least worst’ performer in Q4

We could all do with a morale booster as we face a second wave of virus infections, so I am taking heart from the Advertising Association and Warc's fourth-quarter forecast for adspend in the UK and a recent Thinkbox survey of senior marketers and agency leaders.

The AA/Warc figures were produced before Boris Johnson imposed new national restrictions for four weeks, but they predicted that TV will be the best-performing medium in the Christmas quarter.

Obviously, there’s a megalodon of a caveat to apply: all predictions in 2020 are marked “volatile”. And, even more obviously, by "best-performing" I mean least worst. But the AA/Warc read the tea leaves and that’s what they saw.

In Q4, total TV will be down 2.7% year on year compared with a market average of -10.5%. Broadcaster video-on-demand is forecast to be the only advertising medium to grow year on year – up 9.9%.

It is a small comfort, given the frightening pain some other media are experiencing (and the likely negative impact of the new lockdown). And there is a long way yet to travel beyond Q4. But I’ll take comfort where I can.

It also echoes what advertisers and agencies have been telling me in recent conversations.

Let’s start with the basics: there’s been pretty much universal awareness of TV’s increased viewing during the crisis and, at the same time, advertisers have been keen to capitalise on TV’s even greater value this year and they have been glad to see broadcasters offering increased flexibility in facilitating shorter-term decision-making, plus the new incentives and support for small and medium-sized enterprises.

There was also an appreciation for TV’s societal role in the crisis – bringing us together while circumstances have often kept us apart.

More tellingly, there has also been a reappraisal of the importance of brand, fuelled in part by 2020’s unique circumstances. This was from one marketer, clearly acquainted with the work of Les Binet and Peter Field: “This has been the biggest opportunity for us to support the brand in some time. Ten years ago, it was 95% activation; five years ago closer to 80%. We’re heading towards 60:40.”

And it is thanks to the work of people like Binet and Field (and the IPA – not least through initiatives such as EffWeek) that, alongside a return to brand, it appears there is now also a clear culture of effectiveness permeating the industry.

This is promising news. A culture of effectiveness should benefit TV, so it was also good to see signs of a reappraisal of TV and an improved understanding of TV’s relationship with effectiveness.

This from another marketer: “We’re seeing a push back to TV. The increased viewing has helped and the drop in prices. People are really seeing the benefit of TV again. Previously it was: ‘What are we doing in digital?’ Now it’s more: ‘I am getting TV on my plan, aren’t I?’”

No, I didn’t make that quote up – promise. And I’m not going to shower you with more anonymous quotes of nice things people said about TV.

As a decent proxy, though, it’s worth looking at TV’s recent performance at two of our industry’s most important award ceremonies. Thirteen golds (plus plenty of silvers and bronzes) at the Media Week Awards were for TV-led ideas, including the Grand Prix-winning "Britain get talking" with ITV. And it was a similar story at the IPA Effectiveness Awards, where TV was central to the Grand Prix winner, Tesco, and the other gold winners (Audi, John Lewis & Partners, Guinness).

Of course, the positivity about TV wasn’t all because TV has been doing a decent job. I’d prefer it if it was, but there has also been some circumstantial fortune for TV – as the AA/Warc figures show. TV has benefited from the temporary closure of cinemas and the unfortunate impact of the pandemic on outdoor advertising.

TV has gained, too, from changing attitudes to the Google/Facebook duopoly and the rapid acceleration of ecommerce this year, coupled with better understanding of what drives it.

Some of these circumstances will change (some gladly, if I’m honest; I think we all look forward to a time when life is normal enough for us to go to cinemas again). So, again, I’ll keep pressure-washing potential complacency.

There were lots of consistent themes that emerged from my conversations – things customers want from TV, such as continued broadcaster flexibility, increased collaboration (on tech, on measurement) and further support on things such as HFSS regulation.

But if I had to pick one strand that ran throughout, it would be an apparent contradiction: 2020’s volatility has both opened minds to try new ways of doing things and cemented trust in supporting what works.

For TV, this means that amid the huge challenges and unique circumstances, there are promising prospects. For TV embodies the contradiction. An increased appreciation of brand and a widespread culture of effectiveness are good news for TV as we’ve always known it. But TV’s increased flexibility and rapidly evolving tech and data capabilities are inspiring new ways of approaching it.

During these times, that really is a morale booster.

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