Future health of TV ads will rely on careful agencies

Imagine what it would be like if posters were only visible for 30 minutes each day.

Would crowds gather on Tottenham Court Road to catch them? Would they talk about the ads more? What if all newspaper readers could only read their favourite title between 8.15am and 8.45am? Would those ads be worth more or less than normal if their total readership was exposed to them simultaneously?

I only ask because I'm fascinated by the topic of concurrent and shared media consumption, and what effect it has on the nature and value of the communication.

For some media, we accept that their eventual total usage builds up over time, and always has done. Magazines keep on adding readers beyond the publication date over weeks - and sometimes months.

Online, by its very nature, is served individually and, mostly, consumed individually. Cinema advertising is assessed as an accumulation of exposures, either by venue or title, over varying time frames. But broadcast media are measured by time-specific metrics; by quarter hour for radio and minute by minute for TV.

I don't think anyone would deny that consuming advertising messages in the same space and time as someone else delivers extra talkability; a couple hearing an ad together on the car radio can generate an instant decision to head to DFS.

TV has always been valued for its ability to deliver coverage very fast - overnight even. This hasn't diminished, even though the total audience is now spread across many more channels. Daily broadcast TV reach is unchanged, so, in addition to the shared experience domestically, you can talk about ads with colleagues the next day. So, is there any good reason to value Coronation Street on ITV2 any less than on ITV1, or Ugly Betty on E4 any less than on Channel 4 or Channel 4+1? Are ads around either programme worth more per viewer when seen on-demand, online or via IPTV? Those are not rhetorical questions. I'm genuinely interested in your views.

Broadcasters are offering more choice and control over how, when and where we watch TV. The indications are that people will watch more - and more of their favourite - telly as a result, but inevitably there will be less simultaneous consumption.

As agencies consider the differing values of the growing spectrum of TV advertising, I hope they do so carefully because the future health of the medium depends upon them.

- Tess Alps is chief executive of Thinkbox (www.thinkbox.tv), tess.alps@haymarket.com.

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