Is divided viewer attention killing TV?

With a host of media options to choose from, do consumers really watch TV, Caroline Lovell asks.

Internet...distraction from TV
Internet...distraction from TV

When it comes to watching TV these days, it seems as if families are becoming less like The Royle Family and more like The Jetsons.

An Ofcom report last week found that viewers are increasingly flitting between the telly (for programme content) and the internet (for sneezing pandas on YouTube), while talking on their mobiles.

While daily TV viewing figures for the average Brit are down by six minutes since 2002, we watched two minutes more than 2006, so the death of TV is not exactly on our doorstep.

Mobile and internet use, alongside the uptake of digital recorders and internet protocol TV, is rising. As technology has become cheaper and more accessible, with the growth of home broadband, 3G mobiles and the iPhone, it has become easier for consumers to multitask using different media.

These new "distractions" mean that traditional advertising has had to adapt to reach out to viewers through multiple platforms.

In the short term, Mark Hunter, the executive creative director at Euro RSCG, views the fragmentation of media as a positive development because it has opened up multiple channels through which brands can communicate.

"This can only be a good, if daunting, thing for our business," Hunter says. "The challenge is to reshape the messages so that they work in tandem with the medium. This is what is keeping us up at night."

Jon Williams, the chief creative officer at Grey London, says the breakdown of media lines has broadened out the creative palette on offer. However, Tony Quinn, JWT's head of planning, cautions the changes have forced traditional advertising to raise its game in the battle for the viewer's attention. Far from pushing TV into the background, David Brennan, the research and strategy director of Thinkbox, believes that consumers embrace the journey through the varying media channels.

"It means you've got the whole package in one living room. The journey advertisers can take is now more immediate. People watch an ad on TV and buy the product on their laptop," he says.

But, looking further into the future, what will this break-up of media mean for TV? Antony Carbonari, BT Vision's interactive and commercial media director, believes that TV's future appeal is totally reliant on whether it becomes a far more interactive experience.

"People don't really care about the platform they use, just about what's easiest," Carbonari says.

And IPTV, the digital TV-on- demand service, is one way of making life easier for viewers and advertisers, who can track the websites people visit online and then send targeted ads while they are watching TV programmes.

However, Williams thinks the real step change will only occur when people can plug broadband into the back of a TV set and watch it in the corner of their living room rather than on a computer screen.

This is something that BT Vision also believes is the future of TV. It is currently testing out software where a HTML browser will be available on the TV screen.

Carbonari says: "The TV platform can take interaction on to the next level. New software combines functionality with content, and this is what people want. If something's cheaper, faster, more convenient and more relevant, then people are always going to use it."

- Russell Davies, page 14

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PLANNER - Tony Quinn, head of planning, JWT

"No, I don't think it is a bad thing, not from a discipline point of view anyway. All it means is that, as marketers, brand managers and advertisers, we have to be a lot more rigorous and insightful in how we capture people's attention.

"It puts a premium on the principles on which brands are built. But those principles have not changed. All that has changed is the landscape in which we are battling for their attention.

"Now we are competing with other platforms, you have to be razor sharp in what you're saying. It just ensures we are not flabby with our thinking and forces us to raise our game."

CREATIVE - Jon Williams, chief creative officer, Grey London

"I welcome and celebrate the breakdown of traditional lines of media. The creative palette is broader and it makes it easier for us to talk to people.

"The world is changing. Why would you want to combat these changes? Our job is to understand people, not to try to coerce them into something they don't want.

"Once broadcast channels at specific times stop living in a box in the living room, everything is out the window.

"We have to radically change the way we behave as communication agencies. We can't carry on doing broadcast interruptive advertising, as the business has shifted. The value exchange has to be there or people won't interact."

MEDIA DIRECTOR - Jean-Paul Edwards, executive director, Manning Gottlieb OMD

"The fact that people can consume TV in different ways, and the way they consume is changing means brands need to consider how they advertise across platforms. It's a problem, but it's actually a bigger opportunity.

"Advertisers must remember that technology is secondary to human needs. It's all about how people spend their free time. With a proportion of TV viewing now taken up by other media, it could be 'following the eyeballs', but it's giving brands more potential.

"By having access to more data, we can target who we want better than ever. The costs to manage niche marketing are coming down, and I can see it coming through in the next decade or so."

CLIENT - Antony Carbonari, interactive and commercial media director, BT Vision

"People at the moment have a lot of choice, so it's all about how we capitalise on that choice.

"The reason people are on their laptops when they watch TV won't be to write a Word document or cost plan; they'll be using it for entertainment purposes.

"If we can offer consumers the opportunity to bet on a match through the TV while they're watching the game, rather than having to boot up their laptop, it will help TV's future appeal.

"It's a new way of presenting content. Rather than having people watch a motor race on TV and go on a laptop to get the data, they'll be able to do both on one screen."