To watch or not to watch: TVNZ research finds audiences are most receptive to ads on broadcast TV

Earlier this year, TVNZ teamed up with Colmar Brunton to embark on a journey to learn how a particular context impacts a viewer’s level of engagement and attentiveness when watching an ad.

Does a specific viewing platform make it easier or harder to capture the viewer’s attention? Is there a difference in recall across different viewing platforms? What is happening with the value exchange between time and money?

Wanting to find the answers, it put broadcast TV, recorded TV, TVNZ OnDemand and YouTube to the test and found broadcast TV and TVNZ OnDemand had the best response to ads. As Mitchell explains, audiences are so used to seeing ads on linear television that they have come to accept it.

“Advertising on broadcast TV is a really good way to reach a mass audience, people are receptive to it.”

The experiment

The findings are the result of a qualitative and quantitative research, which saw participants observed and surveyed. Mitchell calls it “an experiment on steroids” as TVNZ hasn’t seen anything like it before.

For the qualitative research, it recorded natural in-home, in-context viewing across the four platforms by giving three households spyglasses to see what they were watching. They included a traditional nuclear family with teens, a mixed family with mixed age children, and younger flatting adults.

When they watched broadcast TV, TVNZ OnDemand content, recorded content and YouTube, they wore glasses recording their behaviour and at the end of the testing period were questioned about their observed behaviour.

Next, in the quantitative research, 599 interviews were conducted with 18- to 64-year-olds and an experiment was conducted in which the real-world was simulated to explore broadcast TV, recorded TV, TVNZ OnDemand and YouTube. The same ad was played across all platforms and to all participants for their behaviour to be observed while facial coding was used to measure emotional impact.

With recorded TV and YouTube offering an option to skip ads, participants watched the ad on each one twice, once with the skip function and once without, so their response to the ad could be tested.

Those responses include behavioural response, intuitive/emotional response and rational response.

Mitchell notes the comparison is skewed favourably to broadcast, recorded or TVNZ OnDemand purely because the chosen ad was made for TV – a point that was demonstrated in a finding that participants were unwilling to watch a YouTube ad in its entirety unless it’s six-seconds long.

The findings

From the interviews with the 599 participants, broadcast TV and YouTube were found to be the most frequently viewed media channels with 53 percent and 47 percent (respectively) of participants regularly using the platform.

And of those turning into broadcast TV regularly, 67 percent are aged 45-64 while 65 percent of those regularly tuning into YouTube are 18-34.

In the same way broadcast TV is the most popular platform, it’s also the platform audience is most receptive to seeing ads. Of the participants, 57 percent were “very open or quite open” to seeing ad. It was followed by TVNZ OnDemand, YouTube, recorded TV and lastly paid TV/video content.

Only 20 percent of participants were “very open” or “quite open” to seeing Paid TV/Video content on their paid platforms.

When breaking down the participants into demographics, those in the 18-24 and 18-34 groups were found to be the most receptive to ads. On broadcast TV, 65 percent of participants who were “very open” or “quite open to” ads were 18- to 24-year olds while on TVNZ OnDemand, 41 percent of those who were “very open” or “quite open” to ads were 18- to 43-years-old.

The trend continued on YouTube and recorded TV while on paid TV/video content it dropped down to 27 percent.

Mitchell says the findings show millennials, while often considered to hate ads, understand the value exchange taking place with viewing ads being the payment for otherwise free content.

The finding that viewers are more open to ads on broadcast TV and TVNZ OnDemand is reflected in the participants’ attitudes towards ad placement. When asked if they expected to see advertising shown on broadcast TV, 69 percent “agreed strongly” or “agreed slightly”.

Similarly, when asked if they don’t mind being shown a couple of ads at a time when watching TVNZ OnDemand, 65 percent of participants “agreed strongly” or “agreed slightly”.

However, the findings show a dramatic change shift in attitude when looking at ads on the other platforms.

When asked if they don’t expect to see ads when they are paying for video/TV content, 88 percent of participants “agreed strongly” or “agreed slightly”. And when asked if they get annoyed when they are unable to skip ads on YouTube, 96 percent “agreed strongly” or “agreed slightly”.

This attitude was witnessed in the qualitative part of the research, in which participants were witnessed having the mouse hover over the Skip Ad button ready and waiting to be clicked when the counter ticked down.

The attitude to ads on YouTube does, however, get better as they get shorter, with 50 percent of participants “agreeing strongly” or “agreeing slightly” with the statement: “I don’t mind watching the shorter ads on YouTube (e.g. six-second ads)”.

Here, Mitchell notes how learned experiences can have an impact on attentiveness and receptiveness to ads. With the introduction of the Skip Ad button giving people the choice to watch just six-seconds of an add it means when that viewing context is not available, they have a negative feeling towards it.

Avoidance tactics

The different attitudes held towards ads on the different platforms is reflected in the way in which the participants avoided the ads.  

When watching broadcast TV and TVNZ OnDemand, participants used passive avoidance tactics such as talking to someone, looking away,  doing something else or picking up another device.

This finding ties into the last Forecast Study by TVNZ that looked at attention and which screen earns the most.

It found when attention was away from the screen, 32 percent returned to the screen when the ad break was over, 25 percent returned with they finished what they were doing on their device, 15 percent returned when they realised they hadn’t been following what was on. And most importantly for TVNZ to find, 21 percent were triggered to look up when they heard something.

This latest piece of research also found that if the same ad appears in different environments viewers are more likely to stop and watch on broadcast TV than online.

It found 42 percent of participants would “definitely” or “probably” stop what they were doing and watch the ad. That dropped to 37 percent on TVNZ OnDemand, and 24 percent in recorded TV. No participants would stop to watch it on YouTube.

Key takeaways

With receptivity and attitudes most positive towards broadcast TV and TVNZ OnDemand, it’s no surprise brand appeal was highest when viewing on those two platforms. In fact, engagement, enjoyment and recognition to the brand was highest on TVNZ OnDemand, with broadcast TV and recorded TV following closely behind.

However, that’s not to say YouTube can’t work for a brand. Mitchell’s warning to brands is the research shows those using YouTube need to “be mindful of the platform they are using”.

She says you can place an ad in broadcast and TVNZ OnDemand and gain similar results albeit different audiences but that ad doesn’t work for YouTube. Instead, she points out the finding about viewers accepting shorter, six-second ads on YouTube and suggests advertisers pay attention.

“You simply can’t place that same ad in the YouTube environment. You have a six-second window to grab viewers’ attention which is challenging to say the least. Therefore, customise the message and the creative for the platform to get the best results.”

She adds the qualitative research that watched what and how viewers were watching found not many people play YouTube videos on full screen so consideration should also be given to the quality of the ads.

TVNZ is also taking on board the findings to shape their use of advertising. Mitchell gives the example of its alternative news offering Re: which is made up of video content shared on social media platforms. While it’s ad-free and had no plans of putting any ads in front of the videos, the research has justified its rationale for looking for other ways to work with advertisers.

“We will have to look at branded content and integrated content solutions for it, where a brand and a story are lined up and you can bring them together.”

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