Editorial: Changing TV habits are a big challenge

Almost half a century has elapsed since commercial TV appeared in Britain. But viewing habits are radically different from those monochrome days.

The extent of that seismic change is well illustrated in two pieces of research unveiled last week. One was the Barb figures, which highlight the relentless progress of multichannel TV at BBC1's expense. The other is a study by Mediaedge:cia that pinpoints the serious threat to advertisers posed by the growing use of personal video recorders such as Sky +.

Meanwhile, another MEC study indicates that more than a quarter of UK adults will confound the Government's target of a switchover from analogue by 2010 by refusing to go digital. Put all these findings together and what do they reveal about the relationship between TV, its viewers and its advertisers?

What is clear is that the BBC, still reeling from an identity crisis and management upheaval, will struggle against a reinvigorated ITV and the deep inroads made by multichannel TV. On the face of it, such a migration ought to be good news for advertisers. While fragmentation of viewing is worrying, the growth of multichannel provides greater opportunities to communicate with the highly important 15- to 34-year-old age group.

Of greater concern must be the emergence of PVRs from niche to mass market, bringing with them the prospect of viewers being able to zap through commercial breaks more easily. Already, almost 70 per cent of the 15- to 34-year-olds driving the PVR revolution claim they switch channels specifically to avoid commercials.

And what of the hardcore refuseniks, most of them of mature years, who continue to hold out against the digital revolution? The over-55s are now estimated to account for 40 per cent of all disposable income in the UK but are in ever-growing danger of becoming marginalised by advertisers.

All these changes won't precipitate the death of TV advertising but will cause it to adopt different guises. New technology will open up exciting communication opportunities. But care must be taken that the free-spending grey market doesn't become a casualty of it.

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