Does Anyone Still Watch Television?

I stopped watching free-to-air TV long before Netflix even became a thing. It wasn’t just the ads. Other than Masterchef Australia, of which I remain a largely indifferent fan nowadays, there hasn’t really been much on Australian free-to-air TV that grabbed me. I’m not the only one: I don’t actually know anyone my age or younger who watches free-to-air TV. Hell, even my parents don’t watch TV — they have Netflix and ESPN. That being said, I’m keenly aware that I’m in the city-living, hipster, treehugger, brunch-eating, NBN-adjacent, young demographic. When you’re internet savvy and have a decent connection why would you even need television? The news? You can read that up over a bunch of different news organisations if you want to avoid Murdoch bias. Entertainment? You can stream or download that. Sport (namely, the football World Cup) is probably the only reason I might watch TV, and even then, that’s often not free-to-air nowadays.

An ageing audience and the rise of streaming services like Netflix has resulted in a “demographic time bomb”. Via the Sydney Morning Herald:

It’s only the rusted-on 50+ demographic which is keeping the figures from going into total freefall. The 18 to 35 demographic – the next generation of seniors – is looking for entertainment elsewhere. In the first quarter of 2017, Australians watched an average of 79 hours and 30 minutes of broadcast television on in-home TV sets each month – a 7% drop on the same time last year. This decline is accelerating, as the 2016 figure was only a 5% drop on 2015.

broadcast television

The 18-35 demographic is switching off broadcast television faster than ever, and chances are they won’t magically switch back to traditional channels as they get older. After all, it’s not like we’re going to abruptly forget how to login to our Netflix accounts. That being said, according to the Nielsen report compiled for Screen Australia, while broadcast TV is declining, it is still the king of content overall by a long mile compared to video-on-demand (VOD) stuff like Netflix and YouTube:

Screen Shot 2019 08 14 at 3.37.46 pm - Starship

It also turns out that the “people I know” measure isn’t a great one overall. Surprise! People in the younger demographics do still watch broadcast TV (what the hell are they watching?), and even if they do watch more on-demand stuff, chances are a large number of them watch both — just that they likely watch more VOD than the other.

Screen Shot 2019 08 14 at 3.38.27 pm - Starship

In other words — while broadcast TV is starting to die a slow death for the younger demographic, things aren’t as bad as they might seem. People do still watch broadcast television. Which means that if you have the budget for it, advertising on TV should still be a relevant strategic consideration.

Isn’t making a television ad bloody expensive?

Well yes. And no. As with everything in marketing, it depends on what you’re setting out to make. Is it a big, splashy, weirdly arty ad? Case in point: almost every car/perfume ad ever, like so:

That’s the full ad, made for YouTube and social media. There are shorter cuts for broadcast TV. That’s the thing that annoys us about “TV or not?” discussions. It isn’t one or the other. If you have a good piece of film content, designed to work both in full and in short cuts, it’ll be fine expressed through multiple touchpoints — not just in broadcast TVC 15s/30s/etc formats but in however long you want online. Great content has further use as stills, as background images for print and digital ads.

Film doesn’t have to be expensive either to work. Dollar Shave Club’s viral ad (over 20mil views on YouTube) reportedly only cost $4,500 to make:

Nosh 404, about a restaurant-rating app, was produced for about $300, and racked up over 600k views:

In many ways, you do get what you pay for. If you’re not willing to shell out money for quality, you can often end up with a dinky ad that’s a waste of everyone’s time. As with any piece of media, in a TV ad you need to be:

  1. Clear about what you want to do: drive people to a particular product? Raise awareness?
  2. Clear about the people you want to reach
  3. Have realistic expectations/KPIs
  4. Take some risks
  5. Do some research

A good team can make a budget go a long way. Just don’t expect miracles (and get angry when you don’t get them). At Starship, we try to be as transparent as possible with clients what they’ll get out of a budget when we quote. You’ll know where your money’s going.

What about the media buy?

Media buy is definitely going to be a large part of your budget. Regardless of whether you have a large budget, being tactical about how you spend it is the best way to maximise it. Yes, advertising on free-to-air/broadcast television is going to cost you. You can, however, consider:

  1. Geographic limitations: is this just a regional product? Do you really need to go national?
  2. Time limitations: does it really need to air during prime time?
  3. Television or cinema or both: consider cinema pre-rolls
  4. Social media: consider pre-roll ads on YouTube or short clips over Instagram etc.
  5. Consider how many times to run your ad.
  6. Target interest by show. Do you have a product that would pair better with Survivor? My Kitchen Rules? Bondi Vet?

These are just some tips you should keep in mind when considering your buy. Naturally, any agency you pick would have more recommendations. Agencies will often also have contacts within the media buy industry and/or at local stations. We often help clients negotiate packages where possible so that they can get the sort of visibility they need. Agencies like us can also often help clients buy “distressed space”, aka ad slots that have to go but haven’t yet been filled so they’re sold for cheap.

In Short

Despite what you may have heard, television advertising remains a highly influential medium. It may not always work for what you intend to do, depending on your brand or product, but when it fits and is managed as part of your overarching brand strategy, it can reach and resonate with a huge audience. The content you make will often also work across digital platforms – it doesn’t have to be one or the other. So the next time someone tells you that tv advertising is old-fashioned and a waste of time… they probably haven’t seen the stats. Want to know more? Get in touch.

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