Broadcast TV is on the comeback trail

Higher ad attention and recall rates signal good news for broadcast and cable

The TV business has had a couple of questionable years, but things may be turning up. After two years of consecutive losses, the broadcast and cable networks enjoyed a stronger than usual upfront season this year, and now a new research study reports that TV ads pull higher engagement and recall rates than on digital platforms.

Maybe the future "death" of TV has finally been proven to be a gross exaggeration. 

Despite the increased attention digital platforms have received from advertisers in recent years, the networks reported CPM increases of as much as 10% and an estimated 5% increase in ad spending this upfront season. And the projected dollar amount is expected to surpass the $17.8 billion inventory sold last year.

In recent years, broadcast and cable networks have been battling the perception that the growing digital landscape was making them obsolete. Digital, after all, caters to the youth of today. TV, in contrast, has often felt stale and stodgy. But recent hits like Fox’s "Empire" and USA Network’s "Mr. Robot" are proving detractors wrong. And in an environment in which the effectiveness of digital advertising is being questioned, a new research study is showing that even though audiences may be streaming "Game of Thrones" or "America’s Got Talent," they aren’t necessarily paying attention to the advertising.

In fact, the study shows that TV audiences are more engaged with advertising. Personally, I’ve never believed the harbingers of doom that said digital platforms will eventually replace broadcast and cable. They are, in my opinion, supplemental viewing options. And now a platform usage study conducted by Hub Entertainment Research and presented by the Council for Research Excellence (CRE) at the recent Nielsen Consumer 360 conference in Las Vegas indicates TV is coming back in style.

The study, based on a sample of US viewers aged 16 to 54, revealed ad engagement and recall was higher amongst TV viewers than those watching programming on tablets or phones. There was little difference between digital platforms. 

Tom Ziangas, SVP of Research at AMC Networks and chair of CRE’s Media Consumption and Engagement Committee, noted that the study showed "little to no difference" in program engagement and enjoyment between platforms. "Viewers were equally engaged with program content, regardless of the screen size," explained Ziangas.  "Ad attention and recall were also similar for a lot of the digital platforms, but it was higher amongst those watching TV. There were higher levels of self-reported attention, better recalls of brands, better recall of ad creative and better recall associated with specific spots by watching on television."

The study showed that 62% of TV viewers were able to recall half or more of the advertisers, compared to 47% for tablet users, 46% for smartphone users and 45% for computer users.  For attentiveness, 29% rated TV an 8-10 on a 10-point attention scale, ahead of smartphones at 23%, computers at 20% and tablets at 17%.

It’s not surprising that multitasking on digital devices leads to lower ad engagement.  "When you are viewing on a mobile screen such as a laptop, cell phone or tablet, people tend to be more easily distracted and do other things because of the personal and portable nature of the devices," noted Joanne Burns, principle of media consultancy RISE mc and bridge board member of CRE. "You’re watching something and an email, text or Facebook pops up and you stop viewing the content. It can negatively impact ad engagement."

Of course, TV viewers also multitask, watching their favorite shows while juggling social media feeds and online shopping. But the study shows the practice doesn’t have as much of a negative impact on ad engagement as it has on digital devices.

Overall, the platform engagement study gave proof that even with all the added viewing options, TV, at least for now, remains a valuable ad investment. And that size does indeed matter.

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