The Years Ahead For ... Television

campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 08 January 2010 12:00AM

John Overend predicts a 'vintage year' as broadcasters push the boundaries of technology.

I am sure I am not alone in being glad to put 2009 behind us. Still, in terms of TV, it was another intriguing year and there was much to reflect on.

We said goodbye to The South Bank Show, Setanta Sports and analogue television in Granada, Border and the West Country and, of course, Michael Grade. Meanwhile, the industry said hello to a new Doctor Who, ESPN, Watch and a growing HD portfolio of channels, and has been reintroduced to Minder, The Krypton Factor and the UKTV channels through their innovative rebrands.

We experienced all-time highs in audiences for the likes of Question Time, Britain's Got Talent and The X Factor while Big Brother's viewing figures plummeted to untenable lows, undoubtedly sounding the death knell for the format.

Meanwhile, the regulation front promised much but delivered very little actual change, Digital Britain and Contract Rights Renewal announcements came and went without much fuss, and product placement and pay-TV were reviewed with the promise of change to come.

During such a dramatic and turbulent era, it is easy to lose sight of the fundamental role TV plays in people's lives. It continues to be the nation's favourite leisure activity. The average adult will end up spending nine weeks of their life glued to the box this year, 62 per cent of which will be watching commercial channels.

Media choice continues to splinter and fragment but television viewing remains as buoyant as ever. This is great news for advertisers, as supply will continue to grow. In many ways, 2010 should be a vintage year. The way we view TV is changing dramatically with Sky and the BBC pushing the boundaries of technology.

The BBC iPlayer has kickstarted the TV on PC revolution and we will see this behaviour increase again this year with the launch of SeeSaw - a broad-scale aggregator of commercial content. Also, we will see the migration of sites such as Hulu to the UK, all of which should be followed by another surge in pre-roll activity on broadcasters' websites.

Sky is concentrating on the churn-free world of HD television and this not only improves the viewing experience but also redirects the family back to the main set in the living room ... a good thing. Sky will bring the technological revolution to the TV advertising world with the introduction of AdSmart next year. Using viewer data, they will be able to offer targeted creatives to different Sky boxes.

The most influential change will be Project Canvas, the internet protocol TV initiative involving the BBC, ITV and BT, which aims to release capable set-top boxes by Christmas 2010. The opportunity of integrating broadband content into the main television set could change the nature of our living rooms forever.

Better technology is also to be found in the new Barb contract that begins to report this year. The new meters will have a comprehensive coverage of all TV sets and related equipment in the home and pick up more video-on-demand activity, as well as Sky Anytime.

The new panel will improve the accuracy of the television currency in the UK and begin to measure more TV behaviour as the contract progresses.

And, although there will be viewing differences in the short term, the currency will continue to offer an unrivalled gold standard measurement.

Of course, the relationship between television and the British public goes well beyond simple entertainment. The television still has the power to unite the nation and, this year, it will continue to create news rather than just report it. The Football World Cup and the General Election will give TV the chance to flex its communication and cultural muscles. It's not just the programmes either. Advertisers' messages play an indelible role in our culture and creatively TV is on a high, making the ads more memorable than any other media, and likely to produce the best response.

The likes of Sony's "Braviadrome" and "beating heart", Cadbury's "gorilla" and Virgin Atlantic's "25 years, still red hot" have continued to push creative boundaries, winning plaudits among critics and the public alike. These campaigns alone give us clear evidence that no other medium plays such a pivotal role in society or, more importantly, works as hard for advertisers as television. And that influence will only increase as the TV morphs from screen to touchscreen, the curator, if you will, of our likes and dislikes, of all content whether it be shows, music or social media.

There are, of course, plenty of challenges to navigate through this year. The TV landscape will emerge from the regulatory limbo of last year with the likelihood of real change taking place.

And if Jeremy Hunt, the shadow secretary for culture, media and sport, is to be believed, a change in government may bring about these changes more quickly and with further reaching measures. Changes in CRR will kickstart policy changes in trading across the industry, as well as bring the saleshouse mergers back to the table.

Ofcom should deliver its verdict on the amount and distribution of advertising minutes given to public service broadcaster channels in comparison to their commercial rivals and I feel that any decision bar a status quo will help ITV, Channel 4 and Five grow revenue in the short term.

Product placement should be here in some form by the end of the year and although it won't entirely cure TV's immediate challenges, it will certainly deliver a welcome injection of cash and some realism to the screen. The results of the pay-TV consultation also should be announced, triggering a change of strategy for Sky, the implications as yet are unknown.

It is not only Sky that will rethink. All this change will direct the strategies of the other broadcasters too. In the end, as always, investment in content and technology wins because at the end of the day invention/reinvention requires both creativity and technology.

Ultimately, the key to TV's success is that it contributes to return on investment in both the short and long term. It shifts products off the shelves, builds brands and brand equity and it can change perceptions. In short, it works and we have the numbers to prove it. And those numbers will only increase in the days of convergence.

- John Overend is the joint managing director of OPera Media.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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