Where Are Viewers Watching Ads in 2020?

Last year saw digital CTV and streaming services grow. At the same time, traditional linear channels and content held strong, as we explored in our deep dive into NFL advertising. Regardless of the device (a tablet or wall-mounted screen or phone), content that we used to watch uniformly on TV still gets advertising, like the ads we used to watch on TV. The 30-second ad is staying strong.

Many players in CTV are aware that their channel sits within a larger, omnichannel ecosystem. This environment, in fact, came out of the digital behaviors watchers engaged in, even while sitting on the couch in front of their box. Viewers are on multiple devices and channels simultaneously, which makes attribution a technical achievement to match infrastructure innovations like 5G.

To make sense of how the audience for advertising is viewing ad content, I recently interviewed Chase Buckle, the trends manager at GlobalWebIndex, a market research company that maintains insights from a global panel of over 22 million consumers. To increase visibility into TV, they also launched Television Reach & Frequency (TVRF), a new tool introduced last year that enables marketers to see into more niche markets and understand TV campaign performance.

First, the broad view. According to Buckle, TV ads’ effectiveness in US markets has been, since late 2015, “in steady decline.” This applies especially in the use of TV for discovery.

“In this period, the rate of U.S. consumers who say they found out about a new brand or product via TV declined by 23 percent, with just under four in 10 now saying they use this channel to discover new products,” Buckle said. “This shift is primarily being driven by Gen Z and millennial consumers.”

Younger TV watchers were still discovering new products, of course – just on other channels like search.

“Despite this downturn, TV ads are still the top brand discovery channel in the U.S., even above word-of-mouth recommendations and search engines,” Buckle added.

“If we single out younger generations, it’s a different story, however,” Buckle cautioned. “Among Gen Z consumers in the US, search engines and social media ads are ahead of TV ads. Among millennials, search engines, word-of-mouth recommendations and online retail websites are the most important brand discovery source. As these trends continue to take over as these generations age, niche targeting will be critical for TV ads to stay alive and generate engagement.”

Since discovery is a behavior, it’s important to understand what viewers are doing besides watching the ads.

“GlobalWebIndex asks Internet users what they typically do while watching TV. From our research, we can see that above all, US consumers are reading their emails (57 percent say they do) and using social media (55 percent),” Buckle stated. “A significant proportion are also chatting to their friends on messaging apps (44 percent), although this rises to 60 percent among 16- to 34-year-olds.”

Buckle points out that digital media also extends the capabilities of marketers to go beyond discovery, to make a sale.

“There’s also a strong appetite to shop while the TV is on,” he said. “Over a third of US consumers say they search for products to buy while watching TV, and this rises to almost 40 percent among 25- to 34-year-olds.”

Cross-device data is key, so that marketers understand the specific behaviors of their various niche markets.

“The capabilities really lie in the marketer’s hands and depend on their level of understanding about how their audiences engage on various devices,” Buckle explained. “If a marketer has this insight specific to their viewers, then they have the ability to reach them in the time and place that is most effective.”

GlobalWebIndex is also watching streaming closely. Although some streaming services aren’t ad-supported, the channel will be crucial to advertisers in future years, due to the audience size.

“[We saw] the streaming landscape change significantly in 2019, as newcomers like Disney made bullish strides to rival legacy competitors by appealing to viewer nostalgia,” said Buckle. “Just a year ago, many were skeptical it was even possible to compete with the likes of Netflix and Amazon, but the speed at which they turned that around is a business lesson for the broader TV and streaming industry.”

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