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November 15, 2020

TV Ad Impact: Can There be a Clear Winner by Platform?

Freewheel, a Comcast Company, recently released its U.S. Video Marketplace Report for the first half of 2020. Of particular interest was its findings on mid-roll breaks in full programs airing on its platform, as this is most similar to commercial breaks appearing on linear TV. Freewheel reported that for the first half of 2020, on average, the duration of a mid-roll break was 112 seconds, with 3.5 ads airing during the break. They also reported a whopping 99% completion rate for these ads.

This prompted us to take a look at comparable figures for linear TV, as originally reported in the August 11th issue of TV Dimensions Alert, “Rising TV Ad Clutter and Its Implications.” Here, per Kantar Media, we reported that the average commercial load for broadcast TV in primetime was 11 minutes, 46 seconds. We independently estimated that this came out to about 35 distinct ad messages per hour.   

Obviously a lower-clutter environment is a positive when it comes to viewers actually registering the ads, so this is definitely a finding in favor of digital ads. However, the 99% completion rate should be approached with caution. A digital completion rate only tells us that the ad ran uninterrupted, not that a viewer actually watched the ad. This is the same as Nielsen’s peoplemeter data, which only records that a commercial ran on a viewer’s TV screen without the channel being changed or the viewer overtly indicating that they left the room or stopped paying attention. In this sense, linear TV’s ad completion rate is also nearly 100%.

But we also know from camera-type and spy studies conducted since the late-1950s, that only about 40-45% of linear TV’s audience actually watches all or part of an average ad message—a percentage that has remained fairly consistent throughout TV’s history. Indeed, current findings from TVision indicate that this is still the case; they recently reported that 40% of program viewers have their eyes on the screen for at least two seconds when an average TV commercial appears. Would this figure also apply to digital ad viewership? Undoubtedly, not all viewers of digital programming are glued to their screens when ads appear, but there is a paucity of available research to tell us how digital fares in this regard. If 40% of digital viewers are watching the ads in a less cluttered environment, we might expect ad impact to be greater than on linear TV. But linear TV’s audience is older, and therefore more likely to watch ads; the viewership of streaming content skews younger, and younger people tend to avoid ads to a greater extent, so perhaps actual ad viewership is even lower on digital platforms. Add to this the fact that digital ads have much higher CPMs than linear TV, and perhaps we have a theoretical wash between the two types of “TV.”

The fact is, we just won’t know until more research is available on the topic. But as this exercise demonstrates, there’s no clear “winner” when it comes to competing TV platforms.

Radio’s Latest Numbers Reveal COVID Toll

Nielsen Audio data recently published by the Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB) appears to show that COVID-19 has had a slow but increasing impact on weekly radio reach. Per the table below, September 2020 weekly radio reach was down almost 3% among all adults, compared to September 2019. There were variations by age and sex, with reach falling off more among younger adults (-4.5%) and among women (-3.2%).

Interestingly, the data reveals a slower decline than might be expected following the pandemic shutdown of winter 2020. March 2020 weekly reach numbers showed only a slight decline or even held steady as the nation ground to a halt, with much more significant declines in June and September 2020. We suspect that much of radio’s declining reach can be attributed to decreased out-of-home listening, particularly in the car. As people settled into working and going to school from home, radio’s drive-time periods in the morning and evening undoubtedly took a hit.

As the nation heads into a “second wave” of the pandemic, with attendant travel restrictions being imposed, it seems unlikely that these numbers will improve any time soon. For a medium reliant on out-of-home listening to bolster its numbers, this is bad news indeed.


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