TV must take the lead in reshaping how all media is traded

Nick Manning: TV must take the lead in reshaping how all media is traded

Media trading currencies remain crude in an era that demands sophistication. TV can lead the push to change this amid the abundance of data and research available.

“There ain’t half been some clever bastards,” sang Ian Dury around 1977. It’s not his nicest title nor best song, but it’s a nice paean to Noël Coward, van Gogh and other geniuses.

We are lucky that we have a number of very “clever bastards” working at the pointy end of media research at a time it is needed most.

Let’s start with the latest and best work from Thinkbox, whose research outputs over several years have been extremely impressive and too often ignored.

Its insights are dismissed as being too partisan. As a result, they don’t get the attention they deserve.

The latest Thinkbox study on “context effects” demonstrates, to no great surprise, that “a big screen, professional content, the company of others and a better mood combine to make the living room the perfect place for advertising”.

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Interestingly, the research delved into aspects of advertising that are relevant to all advertising. For example:

  • Professional video content drives 60% higher ad recall than user-generated content
  • Advertising in professional content leads to 44% higher trust
  • Ad recall increases by 23% when jointly experienced
  • The right in-home advertising context can increase ad recall by up to 6.3 times


I am not a research expert nor paid by Thinkbox, but the science behind the study, drawing on solid academic sources, looks impressive and the results seem to make perfect sense not just for TV but have implications for all forms of media.

Let’s call this “context” study specimen one.

Business growth

We should not forget the hugely impressive presentation from Peter Field at December’s Future of TV Advertising Global conference. It provided firm evidence of the enduring power of TV and its ability to deliver cost-effective business growth. Let’s call this specimen two.

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Specimen three is material produced by EssenceMediacom, which has fused multiple datasets to arrive at an analysis that ranks different media according to their cost-effectiveness of reach and influence.

Unsurprisingly, TV features heavily, even though it is seen as an expensive medium. This analysis shows that it is on average consistently cost-efficient in doing what it does best.

Specimen four is an analysis from Adelaide, the attention metrics specialist, which has looked at the delivery of different channels and their ability to cut through (as we used to say).

Again, “big TV” comes out very favourably.

So far, so predictable in confirming what we always knew — but, crucially, within the new multi-platform, multi-device context.

Talking of context, we also know that we have to look at the ability of context and attention to drive impact and effectiveness in the post-cookie world.

But who is using all of these great research tools and how? What effect are they having on how media is planned, bought, measured and reported? This is much less clear.

Reappraisal needed

Judging by the macro trends and the increased flow of ad revenues to the dominant digital platforms in recent times, “big TV” is not getting the rewards for its ability to build business and brands.

Again, this isn’t news, but with the transition of TV to a hybrid linear and digital medium that can provide the benefits of TV with the functionality of digital channels, there must surely be a reappraisal of its power.

Surely, surely… But we have been saying this for a long time and it appears that the strong evidence of TV’s superpowers is not stemming the tide and the outflow of linear audience, not fully replaced by digital growth, has an eclipsing effect.

Linear TV is still delivering audiences at scale and its “babies” are adding addressability and other attributes normally associated with online channels, such as automated contextual targeting.

It is now possible to build a successful business without “big TV” and even gain a degree of brand traction, especially via the virtuous circles inherent in retail media and digital commerce.

Indeed, “big TV” is not always the answer. But it can spin the digital commerce flywheel faster by amping up key elements such as search and social, and it will become a central plank of retail media, as evidenced by Amazon Prime Video and Walmart’s purchase of Vizio.

When it comes to retail media, TV has the ability to drive traffic on site, off site and in store, while multiplying the effects of other elements of the mix. Brand preference is pretty important in all shopping-led activity.

New trading currencies

We seem to be operating in a bifurcated world where brand-building has good PR but the actual behaviour of the marketing services industry is driven by other factors.

There are, as usual, no simple answers. But what should the world look like?

We need to solve the paradox that the media trading currencies in use today are old-fashioned and crude in an era that demands sophistication.

The classic GRPs (or TVRs) are fairly meaningless if basic demographics are the only added ingredient. What exactly is an ABC1 adult these days and how do broad age ranges such as 16-34 work in a highly individualised world?

Why do we use basic demographics both as a TV planning tool and a buying currency in the 21st century?

What value do “impressions” have if they are not enriched with enough data to make them valuable, such as being real or viewable for more than a nanosecond? How many impressions get served without much qualification at all? (Clue: lots.)

Walk the talk

We have talked for years about our ability to identify and personalise audiences, but we are not using all of the tools at our disposal. We now have more and better than ever before, so let’s walk the talk.

We have plenty of “clever bastards” who have the skills and experience to redefine GRPs according to the type of audience, device, viewing occasion and mood variables in Thinkbox’s context research.

We have data galore to allow us to define impressions using first-party data, geo-location, device, timing and many other relevant types of research and data.

So let’s reinvent the currencies we use to plan and buy the media we spend billions on, improving the effectiveness of advertising money, rather than wasting precious resources on irrelevant and often non-existent audiences. Not to mention irritating the hell out of the audience on digital TV channels by repeating the same ads because the algo got it wrong.

Who’s going to do all this? We could wait a long time for industry consensus on even the basics of such an initiative.

Bold decisions have to be made quickly and leadership will be required to effect change, even if this means a higher degree of risk.

Is a media agency group going to go over the top first? It seems unlikely.

Real change

Arguably, the people who have the most to gain from taking the lead are the ones who have both the greatest assets and the greatest need to do it.

“Big TV” has the ability to build business and brands, spin the commerce flywheel, drive traffic in store, web and app, multiply the effects of other media and do this both short term and long term, with the reach of linear and the addressability and functionality of digital.

So perhaps industry change needs to be driven by “big TV”, with its unique attributes changing not just planning but buying too. We need a change of currencies to make for real change, including quality adjustments that reflect the truth of today’s viewing diversity.

The advantages that “big TV” has may be squandered if the audience currencies used for planning and trading don’t change.

In our industry, change is a constant, but some things haven’t changed enough. The clock is ticking.

Nick Manning is the co-founder of Manning Gottlieb Media (now MG OMD) and was chief strategy officer at Ebiquity for over a decade. He now owns a mentoring business, Encyclomedia, offering strategic advice to companies in the media and advertising industry, and is non-executive chair of Media Marketing Compliance. He writes for The Media Leader each month.

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