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How "stayinghome" is changing the media landscape.

Updated: Oct 20, 2020

M.i. Media Planning Director, Andy Brander, takes time to reflect on the state of the media industry after two weeks of self isolation.

It’s week two of lockdown as the UK does its utmost to halt the spread of this deadly pandemic. In less than a month, the world has been turned upside down socially and economically with wide ranging impacts across the whole population and the businesses / organisations that serve them.

At M.i. Media, my colleagues and I have a professional as well as personal interest in keeping up to date with the at times eye-wateringly large shifts in media as consumer behaviour drastically evolves. Each day’s headlines and research data delivers new information which in aggregate could / should have profound media planning implications. Yet we are mindful that simply transmitting loads of media statistics would be somewhat tone-deaf and potentially of limited relevance to a marketing and business community whose individual circumstances we won’t pretend to second guess. What follows therefore is a summary of some of the big media trends we are witnessing and an attempt to identify some potential implications, while remaining all too conscious that not every client will be in a position to react in the short term.

We start with two channels most obviously negatively impacted from an audience point of view by the wholesale pivot from out of home to in-home media consumption

The writing was on the wall for Cinema when the launch of latest Bond movie was postponed until November and since 17th March, all screens are now silent until further governmental guidance received. Cinema tends to be used infrequently by M.i. Media’s clients, hyper local briefs aside, but months of hiatus in film (and TV) production implies that there could be medium as well as short term implications for it.

Of much greater importance to our clients are the various guises of Out Of Home (OOH). With the majority of the UK population discouraged from leaving their homes except for essential groceries or daily exercise, the out of home industry has lost a large part of its usual, vast audiences. Transport and shopping centre environments have been the most affected as non-essential commuting and shopping has all but ground to halt. For M.i. clients this has meant the postponement/deferment of planned campaigns on tube and bus (Global, now owner of the TFL contract has been thankfully flexible), train cards (KBH) and washroom panels (Admedia) normally effective at driving new donors for our charity clients.

Out of home’s prospects are pretty bleak at present and likely to remain so until restrictions are lifted. Media owners are facing substantial drops in advertising demand so there are astonishing deals to be done for any advertisers that come to market. As our OOH specialist Talon Outdoor points out however, “whilst it might seem a long way off, people will once again experience the joy of leaving their homes…having our journeys and movements restricted gives us all the deep sense of how much our freedom is vital to our lives and people will discover a newfound love for the great outdoors.”

Newspaper & Magazine brands meanwhile are experiencing a rapid acceleration of the long term migration of their loyal print readers to greater consumption of their content digitally. Time Out has rebranded to Time In and gone online only and the Evening Standard is apparently now getting delivered to homes (though seemingly not out to zone 5). With readers’ shopping and commuting habits changed for the foreseeable, publishers will be increasingly reliant on subscriptions. Most print that doesn’t find its way into the home, via letterbox or otherwise, risks being missed. March circulation data yet to be released but while it will inevitably vary by title, expect the general picture for print to be down and the market ripe for discounted space deals to compensate.

The flipside for newspaper brands in particular, is the significant jump in impressions for their digital inventory from a population hungry for news. While positive on the surface, this comes with a sting in its tail. As so much of their content inevitably reports on the Covid 19 pandemic, the newspaper publishers’ trade body estimates that digital brand safety measures around terms such as “coronavirus” have the potential to cost the industry £50m in lost advertising revenue (in addition to the loss of a proportion of their paid for circulation revenues).

How are other Digital channels faring? Aggregated data hard to come by at the best of times, particularly from behind the “walled gardens”, but the big picture likely to be increased audience usage but a fall in demand preventing platforms / publishers from fully monetising it.

One of our digital display partners, Quantcast, report that internet usage has risen by 23% month on month, with increased activity across all generations. News, health / wellbeing and family /parenting content some of the major beneficiaries. Where content doesn’t fall foul of brand safety monitoring, our partners at GoodStuff predict discounts of c.30% off standard programmatic / native CPMs.

One piece of reassuring news is that despite the surge in daytime internet use (and shifts in devices used) as more people work, school and stay at home, telecoms giant BT has said that it has "plenty of headroom" on its network. Apparently, despite my seemingly endless video conferencing, data-use is lower than previously recorded highs which the network had been able to handle.

Search is normally estimated to represent c. 30% of total UK adspend, c.87% of which goes through Google, and demand is down. Spend has been pulled back by the long tail of small businesses that Google (and Facebook) have so efficiently recruited but also by more established advertisers whose products aren’t deemed essential needs. With fewer advertisers making fewer bids, bids in many sectors are lower than in recent memory (though presumably competition remains high in those sectors with increased relevance right now). Now more than ever a highly attentive, hands-on search team is essential to maximise the effectiveness of client budgets, with CPCs and conversion rates in such a state of flux. And doubly important given that clients are seeing traffic losses through organic channels due to a drop in overall search demand.

Social Media is benefiting from and still being battered by the pandemic. The social-networking giant Facebook reported that total messaging across its platform’s services increased 50%, with video messaging on Messenger and WhatsApp more than doubling. Despite “big surges…we don’t monetise many of the services where we’re seeing increased engagement, and we’ve seen a weakening in our ads business in countries taking aggressive actions to reduce the spread of Covid-19,” said Mark Zuckerberg. Similarly though Twitter's daily active users are up, the company has warned on profits. As with ALL communications right now, biddable teams need to remain vigilant that copy is relevant and performing. In the immediate term CPCs likely to be 20% or more lower and given the relative ease of producing new copy, we suspect Facebook’s ad platform may be one of the first places new messages are tested. In the longer term, though some publishers and technology platforms may struggle to survive a sustained fall in revenue, expect Facebook and Google to continue by developing ever new ways to monetise their audiences and IP.

AV / Video in all its forms is also experiencing heightened demand by its audiences but dramatic decline in demand from advertisers. Facebook video and Youtube as well as SVOD platforms Amazon, Apple TV+, Disney+ and Netflix have all reduced their video quality in Europe in order to reduce demand on internet service providers. Those platforms charging a subscription are insulated from a fall in advertising (though they too may eventually suffer once more content is consumed without new stuff being produced to replenish it). Those that advertisers can use to reach our target audiences are suffering significantly reduced demand, evidenced by GoodStuff’s estimate of at least a 30% reduction in cost of online video.

Source: Sky News coverage of the pandemic

And despite new research out this week from GroupM suggesting twice as many consumers say TV ads create a more positive image of brands than equivalent digital formats, Linear TV and Broadcaster VOD are also being hit really hard. Audience wise daily TV viewing overall is up 32% YoY for last week and viewing of BVOD up 10%. Average minutes watched per day also up 10%, driven by greater availability in younger and more affluent, ABC1 audiences . News viewing is significantly up vs. normal levels (Sky News up 133% YoY) and people also seeking escape and entertainment with ITV’s Saturday Night Takeaway delivering its biggest prime time audience since England’s World Cup Semifinal in 2018.

So TV viewing (supply) is in rude health but as with other media, predictions of TV revenue (demand) have fallen off a cliff. Estimated as -20% in March and, according to Campaign, up to -50% for May, a fall of an unprecedented magnitude. In TV’s dynamic marketplace, higher supply (though this varies by broadcaster), combined with falling demand can only mean massive cost deflation. Advertisers willing and able to maintain a TV presence can afford bigger weights vs normally harder reach audiences at CPTs 30%, 40% or even potentially 50% below anything anyone predicted just a couple of months ago. This will have serious implications for the broadcasters with ITV already announcing a reduction of £100m in its programming budget and others will inevitably follow.

Rounding off this media digest is Radio & Digital Audio. Radio’s industry approved audience data Rajar only reports quarterly so we are more reliant on selective statistics released by media owners. These reveal that stations are reporting increased listenership through connected devices but it remains to be seen to what extent increased listening to radio / digital audio for news, information and companionship during weeks of social distancing will compensate for reduced hours in their natural peaks of breakfast and evening drivetime. We expect live and talk based radio to outperform and as with all other channels, media owners to be prepared to negotiate discounted CPTs to attract any new budget.

In summary, as with almost every conceivable business sector, the media industry is reeling from the rapid and seismic changes wrought by this corona virus. The dust is yet to fully settle but already there is an array of opportunities for media value for those clients in a position to benefit. Yet we are acutely aware that for many clients it is simply not practical or appropriate to do so in the current circumstances.

But we also know that despite this terrible pandemic’s threat, green shoots will eventually appear and the economy will bounce back with great relief. The prospects of most businesses and millions of jobs will rely on brands rapidly rebuilding their revenues.

M.i. Media are helping our clients to navigate these ‘strange times’ and the immediate challenges facing their businesses. We know that we will get through it; so our focus is on making sure we deliver against their short term needs but also with a firm eye on ensuring we are best placed to drive the swiftest recovery in the not to distant future.

Delivering an immediate step change in advertising’s acquisition performance is what M.i. Media does best.

M.i. Media are ready to work with you now to sharpen your customer acquisition, refining your media approach while you recalibrate your messaging to the new and evolving consumer context. Let us help you to ensure your brand gets back being bought by its consumers as soon as it’s appropriate to do so.

Author: Andy Brander