Surprising results have emerged from a global study of TV habits. Enough
similarities are apparent to suggest that pan-European brands and
advertising can work.
The biggest piece of global research into broadcasting, covering
viewers’ attitudes to ads and programming, has provided strong evidence
that there is a ‘single European media market’.
Questions of whether pan-regional ads work, or whether ads should be
tailored to take account of cultural differences in different markets,
have long been debated by the advertising industry.
Discovery Communications, the parent of Discovery Channel Europe, spent
pounds 1 million on the study which was carried out by the US-based
international research company, Roper Starch Worldwide. Discovery, hell
bent on extending its service worldwide, wanted to find out ‘just how
far the media-driven global village has developed’. More precisely, it
wanted to know whether it could run programming and ads ‘sans
frontieres’ or whether they needed to be adapted to local cultures.
Fortunately for Discovery, the research found there are far more
similarities than differences between most countries in western and
central Europe, with the exception of the former USSR.
While it found that there are differences in the way European countries
view their advertising, there is enough consistency across Europe to
suggest that global brands and advertising can work. The consistency
extends to the levels of TV and video-cassette recorder penetration,
hours of viewing and access to cable and satellite channels.
The study surveyed 40,000 people in 41 countries worldwide with more
than 14,000 people interviewed in 21 European countries.
‘This is the most intensive and comprehensive piece of global research
to date,’ Nicolas Boyon, Roper Starch’s vice-president of international
research, says. ‘It took six months and has generated immense interest
from advertisers - not just about consumers’ attitudes to brands but
attitudes to issues such as morality and the environment. It’s an all-
purpose reference study.’
The research also found that worldwide television penetration of
households has almost reached saturation and, at 96 per cent, is higher
than the global penetration of refrigerators.
Eighty-five per cent of all households surveyed globally, and 88 per
cent in Europe, own a colour TV set. Half of all the households surveyed
own at least one VCR, with the figure dropping slightly to 48 per cent
in Europe, while 28 per cent of households globally are able to receive
cable television compared with Europe’s 17 per cent. Eight per cent
globally and in Europe have access to additional channels via direct-to-
home satellite systems.
The Roper Starch/Discovery findings make positive reading for data-
hungry advertisers and agencies who want to run ad campaigns across
national boundaries, but have previously lacked the evidence to prove it
The sheer scale of the survey base, in an industry which often builds
arguments on the back of focus groups of ten people, helps strengthen
the case for pan-European programmes and advertising. The downside for
agencies is that the study shows that viewers across Europe don’t like
the ads they see and feel that advertisers are pulling the wool over
‘This research clearly points out that television can cross national
boundaries. There are fundamental tastes, interests and programme
references that are truly global and that can be seen to apply to Europe
as a whole,’ Nick Colmer-Calder, general manager of Discovery Channel
Colmer-Calder says pan-regional advertising is being held back, not
because of consumer attitudes, but because of the shortage of strong
pan-regional television channels. He says channels need to become well
established and easily recognisable before they can hope to attract pan-
Of course, Colmer-Calder has a vested interest in saying this. Naturally
he wants to be able to increase revenue for Discovery by convincing
advertisers that his channel is worthy of a place on their media
But he has a point. To date, pan-European channels have covered areas
where language barriers aren’t a problem, such as the music channel,
MTV, sports channels such as Eurosport, and news programmes for English-
speaking business men such as European Business News.
With the exception of Discovery, which is gradually building its
audiences worldwide, there is a shortage of channels outside these
niches that provide a wider range of programming.
Richard Burdett, vice-president of ad sales at Flextech Television,
which manages cable and satellite ad sales for several channels
including Discovery, says that if strong channels are developed, then
there is no reason why pan-regional fmcg advertising shouldn’t take off
in the way that car and airline advertising has.
‘Advertising agencies need media vehicles that allow them to be
confident that their ad is in the right environment. That’s where media
owners can help them,’ Burdett says. ‘That’s why Time and Newsweek are
doing so well. If, for example, you see them on a schedule for Belgium
you feel OK because you know the title. It hasn’t got to that stage with
television yet and that’s what is holding back advertising in other
Magazines are certainly ahead of television in this respect. Pick up a
copy of Newsweek or Time in any European country and you have a pretty
good idea of what type of stories you are going to read, even though the
stories carried may vary in different countries to suit local readers,
and in what sort of format. The Financial Times has also latched on to
this and has increased the number of European editions it prints.
Despite regional differences, magazines and the FT are essentially the
same in each market, which makes it easy for advertising agencies to
feel safe that they know what they are getting when booking ad space in
them. It’s one thing to be able to book an ad across Europe, the
reaction to the ads themselves is quite another.
Sixty per cent of the Europeans surveyed thought the ads they see were
creative or entertaining. That figure drops sharply to 40 per cent in
central Europe and 23 per cent in the former USSR - a sharp contrast
with North America where three-quarters of the respondents found the ads
Unfortunately, the research only asked respondents about attitudes to
advertising generally and does not provide any specific examples of
favourite or least liked ads.
Although the research revealed that there is strong brand sensitivity
across Europe, more than half those surveyed are not loyal to just one
brand, but rate several brands highly. For advertisers looking to
increase sales in different countries, it’s positive news as it shows
that European consumers are not set in their ways when it comes to
shopping but are prepared to try different brands. With this in mind,
one might conclude, advertisers could do worse than advertise on pan-
As always, the good news has a caveat - in this case it’s that the
survey finds higher levels of cynicism in western and central Europe and
the former USSR about companies’ ability to provide accurate information
about their products than in any other region of the world.
Only 30 per cent of those surveyed in western Europe believe marketers
give them accurate information, dropping to 23 per cent in central
Europe and 9 per cent in the former USSR compared with 46 per cent in
Asia and 43 per cent in North America.
Only 19 per cent of those in western and central Europe believe
marketers respect the consumers’ intelligence compared with 31 per cent
in North America and 40 per cent in Asia.
Thus, the answer to the study’s central question - does a pan-European,
and even global market, for ads and programmes exist - may be yes, but
unlocking its potential is not so straightforward.
Breakdown of main findings in five key European countries
Italy receives 26 channels, far more than any other western European
country, although household penetration of pay-TV stands at only 10 per
Oddly, Italians spend less time in front of the TV than any other
European country watching, on average, 1.7 hours a day.
In a country where documentary programming counts for less than 1 per
cent of airtime, 79 per cent wanted to see more factual programming - a
higher figure than in any other European country. Italy was the only
European country where nature programming was not the first- or second-
highest rated subject area.
Cynicism about advertising in Italy is at one of the highest levels in
western Europe. Italians believe that marketers do not respect
consumers’ intelligence and Italians show the lowest level of confidence
in marketers giving them accurate information. They also strongly
believe that advertisers exaggerate health benefits and brainwash
children. Only 62 per cent of Italians declared ads creative and or
The UK, where households receive an average of nine channels, is second
only to Turkey in couch-potato terms. The average viewing per day in the
UK is 3.13 hours compared with Turkey’s 3.8 hours.
The UK is the most chauvinistic when it comes to its television
programmes - 79 per cent of UK respondents rate UK programmes as best.
The majority of the remaining 21 per cent said the US programmes are
best. However, only 15 per cent of Europeans think UK programmes are
best, with the US getting the most positive response.
The UK population also top the charts for its belief that advertising is
creative and entertaining, with 84 per cent agreeing. It was followed by
Ireland (77 per cent) and Norway (72 per cent). The western European
average is 60 per cent.
With the exception of Ireland, the UK is more positive than other
western European countries about marketers’ ability to give accurate
information about their products, but that’s not saying much - only 39
per cent believe they do and just 29 per cent think that marketers
respect consumers’ intelligence.
More than any other country we believe that advertising brainwashes
children (90 per cent), 80 per cent believe it exaggerates health
benefits and only slightly more than half believe that advertisers
sponsor worthwhile events.
Behind Italy, Germany has the second-highest number of channels, with an
average of 17 available to households. It does, however, have the
highest penetration of pay-TV services with a quarter of homes receiving
Germans watch 2.6 hours of TV a day, which is on a par with France - the
When it comes to what they want to see, Germans are among the least
inclined to want more factual programming with just over a third wanting
The Germans obviously take their advertising more seriously than other
Europeans. Just over half think their ads are creative and entertaining.
They are also more inclined than the other leading western European
countries to feel that marketers exaggerate health benefits. Less than a
third believe marketers provide accurate information and a low 15 per
cent believe marketers respect consumers’ intelligence.
France offers around seven channels, half of the European average and
the second-lowest number of channels in western Europe, yet has the
second highest level of penetration for pay-TV services at 19.4 per
Along with Germany, its viewers watch the European average of 2.6 hours
of TV a day. The French are only marginally behind Italy in their desire
for more factual programming with three quarters happy to see more
France comes fourth out of the 14 European countries for wanting an
educational element in TV programmes. Whereas more than half the French
surveyed believe they make the best movies, only 10 per cent of all
Europeans think they do. And advertising? France shares Italy’s level of
belief in the creativity of ads - only 62 per cent find them
The Spanish receive the lowest number of TV channels in western Europe
with an average of six channels. The penetration of pay-TV services is
also low at just under 9 per cent.
The Spanish view less television than the average European, watching
under two-and-a-half hours a day.
As with France, only about one-third believe marketers provide them with
accurate information, and only 16 per cent believe they are treated
Spain is at the bottom of the league of key western European countries
when it comes to rating ads as creative or intelligent, with only 45 per
cent claiming they find them so.
The Spanish believe more than the other countries surveyed that the
health benefits of products are exaggerated, and they have the lowest
level of belief that companies sponsor worthwhile events.