All eyes on me: Which video content generates the greatest engagement levels

In 2018, the number of available options for consumers to watch video content is truly staggering.

Long gone are the days when the whole family simply crowded around the television in the living room to watch whatever the national networks chose to broadcast. We are still watching broadcast TV, but we’re also consuming video on our phones, our tablets, our laptops – and in many cases, on two or three of these screens at once.

Of course, wherever there is a new kind of screen to watch video content, you can be sure advertising is going to be there as well.

But is there any difference in how – or where – we see an ad?

Here at TVNZ, we were curious about how viewers respond to ads on different platforms. We especially wanted some hard evidence that showed us how a particular viewing platform impacts a viewer’s level of engagement and attentiveness when watching an ad.

So, in partnership with Colmar Brunton, we undertook what was perhaps the most experimental – yet robust – piece of research ever attempted in New Zealand to learn what was really going on in the heads of Kiwi consumers when they watched ads on these different platforms.

What we learned was enlightening, to say the least. 

The research

We looked at four platforms – broadcast TV, recorded TV (eg through a set-top box), our own TVNZ OnDemand platform and YouTube.

Participants in three households were given ‘spy glasses’, which recorded what they were watching, so we could later review their viewing habits across the four platforms. We also asked them to complete questions through the week about what they’d watched and assessed their behaviour, as well as intuitive and emotional responses.

Finally, we reviewed all the recorded moments and behaviours to understand their context and emotions and followed up with in-depth one-on-one interviews.

Alongside this, we surveyed a group of 599 people aged between 18 and 64, showing them an unfamiliar ad for UK supermarket, Sainsbury’s, in simulated environments on the four platforms and recorded their responses.

To ensure we had a full data set of emotional responses to compare all four platforms, in the simulated environments of recorded TV and YouTube where participants could choose to skip the ad entirely, we also got them to watch the ad a second time and didn’t allow them to skip it.

Finally, we recorded their attention and reactions using a program which deciphered the participants’ facial codes, and surveyed them with a comprehensive questionnaire.

From this mix we drew a robust set of behavioural, neuroscientific and quantitative data that we hoped would answer some basic questions … Would they watch the ad or not? For how long? How would they react emotionally? Would it differ across platforms?

It’s fair to say we uncovered some really valuable insights.

Nigel Latta presented ‘The Value Exchange’ to an audience in early May 2018

The results

The first thing we learned was not entirely surprising – that is, broadcast TV and YouTube are the most watched video platforms. However, while the latter has only been around since 2005, broadcast TV has been around for over six decades, so as viewers we have got used to relating to its content in particular ways – especially ads. 

For example, the survey found that consumers are much more receptive to seeing advertising on broadcast TV (57 percent open or quite open) compared to all other platforms (32 percent for OnDemand, 31 percent for YouTube, 26 percent for recorded TV). This suggests we are so used to seeing ads on TV that we come to accept them as part of that experience, and so are more likely to watch them.

However, when it comes to YouTube or other online content ads, viewers switched off – or even more notably for advertisers, they got annoyed (79 percent of people in our survey felt this way.) Although 50 percent of participants said they didn’t mind watching short ads on YouTube (around six seconds worth), when paying for content, 88 percent said they don’t expect or want to see ads.

Interestingly, the research found that younger viewers are generally more open to ads on Broadcast TV – in fact, 65 percent of 18-34-year olds were open to seeing ads, compared with 47 percent on YouTube. For OnDemand, 65 percent (who agreed strongly or slightly) liked only being shown a couple of ads at a time.

What we are seeing here is a clear value exchange taking place, based on pre-set conditioning around these platforms. There are clear expectations and attitudes towards advertising when it is experienced on a particular viewing platform, and both a viewer’s attentiveness and receptiveness to advertising varies depending on this experience.

The thought process that the research revealed was this: “If I expect to see an ad, I’m more likely to accept it, view it and respond to it positively.” This was clearly seen in our participants’ responses to Broadcast TV and OnDemand where they understood that the free content meant they were going to be exposed to some ads. On the other hand, if a learned experience is to avoid or skip an ad on a particular platform, the viewer is more likely to have negative feelings about it. 

Broadcast TV, OnDemand and Recorded TV in most parts got a similar reaction to advertising on their platforms. Engagement was higher, enjoyment was higher, and recognition to the brand was far higher than YouTube. In fact, statistics showed for Broadcast TV and OnDemand, 31 percent and 32 percent of participants respectively enjoyed the ad either ‘a lot’ or ‘quite a lot’, compared with four percent on YouTube.

Together this has a dramatic effect on brand impact. With just three percent of YouTube viewers correctly recalling the ad compared with 72 percent for Recorded TV, there are clearly limits to advertising’s ability to impact behaviour and attitudes towards a brand on the platform. To get the best results, it’s vital to customise creative for the platform you’re using: for YouTube, ads should be adapted to fully utilise the six seconds available to convey a message.

Findings like these should give pause to any marketers and agencies thinking about where to invest their brand’s advertising budget.


Perhaps the most startling realisation to come out of this research for us was how the preconditioning for how viewers react to ads on a certain platform is more significant than we thought.

Broadcast TV and OnDemand clearly command more attention because we accept a value exchange of advertising for free programme content. Viewers are more receptive to ads on these platforms, as opposed to actively avoiding them on YouTube or Recorded TV.

These results also validate the finding from last year’s TVNZ multi-screening study, which showed that when viewers have a device in their hand while watching Broadcast TV, active ad avoidance tactics tend to disappear completely.

All things considered, it remains that great creative is always going to generate ‘look up’ moments on TV – while great use of audio and visual elements within creative will get active participation from viewers.

As Karen Nelson-Field, Professor of Media Innovation at the University of Adelaide says, “The platform that commands the greatest active attention gets the sale.”

It may be time to rethink where consumers’ eyeballs are really looking and how your brand can get in front of them. 

  • For further information, visit tvnzsales.co.nz or contact your TVNZ business manager 
  • This story is part of a content partnership with TVNZ.

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