When PVRs were first introduced some 15 years ago there was panic: viewers would simply fast forward through the ads and brands would end up paying for ads that no one ever watched.
That moment passed pretty quickly and it wasn’t until 2007 that timeshifted viewing really started to erode live audiences.
Right now it’s about 5% of overall viewing, though this rises to 6-7% among the busier young and upmarket.
The figures are even more dramatic for individual programmes. ITV1’s Titanic, for example, accrued 30% of its eventual audience between one and seven days after live broadcast.
At 8%, average levels of timeshifting are significantly higher for drama than for other genres.
The way that TV ratings are calculated does provide some protection - ads that are watched on fast forward aren’t counted in the consolidated ratings and therefore don’t have to paid for.
In the case of Titanic that reduced the proportion watching on time shift down from 30% for the programme itself down to the impact to 7-19% for the ad breaks, the exact figure dependent upon position-in-break.
As more and more of us acquire devices that allow us to take control of our viewing - and increase our usage over time, it will become an even more significant proportion of total viewing.
Timeshifting has reached a level where brands need to start adjusting the way they plan and place their TV ads.
There are obvious circumstances where an advertiser might pay for ads that are effectively valueless, or even unwanted, if viewing takes place days after transmission; an ad for a sale or promotion ending on the day of transmission, for instance.
As a general rule, the more of an ad’s impacts that fall into the seven day window after the broadcast that are added in to the consolidated viewing figures, the shakier the argument might be for the value of those impacts.
Marketers can manage this trend by following three simple rules to ensure they don’t pay for valueless impacts.
First they need to think about how their schedule is phased: have the digital channels taper off over the last week of the campaign. Impacts accrued by what were once called satellite and cable channels tend to be more time-shifted than the traditional free-to-air channels (whichever broadcast method is used to receive them).
By tapering the schedule, brands can ensure their messages aren’t watched after an offer has expired.
Second, investment in first-in-break ad spots should be concentrated into the early part of the campaign.
Analysis of in-break viewing and fast-forwarding reveals that, if you are first in break, a greater percentage of your viewing will be accrued later.
It seems slow consumer reactions can mean that early ads get viewed and have to paid-for while those in the middle and later in the break do not.
Finally they must resist the temptation to buy ‘specials’ or other super-premium airtime within the last few days of the campaign. In era of time-shifted viewing, they not only cost more but more of them will be viewed after your offer or deal has expired.