**This article originally ran on AW360.**
“You don’t own a TV? What’s all your furniture pointed at?”
Joey Tribbiani once asked that question on Friends, inadvertently reflecting the common perception of TV at the time. For decades, a TV served as the focal point in millions of living spaces; if you didn’t have one, you were the exception, not the rule. Fast-forward to the present day, and it’s clear that a lot has changed. We no longer rely on traditional TV screens or programming schedules to watch our favorite shows. Instead, we watch TV exactly how, when and where we want—and the demand for quality TV content, across screens and platforms, has never been higher.
In fact, despite all the uncertainty surrounding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, one clear trend quickly emerged in the early days of lockdown measures: increased TV viewership, driven by the homebound economy. One study even found that, during Q2’2020 and due to stay-at-home orders, viewers were watching an average of eight additional hours of TV per week. Even though this heightened viewership has since leveled off, it has still amplified the importance of better understanding TV viewership trends.
But, aside from TV’s obvious entertainment value, why are so many people drawn to it during taxing times and beyond? And how can savvy advertisers make sure they’re understanding viewership trends and effectively reaching and engaging with the “right” audiences whenever, wherever and however they watch TV?
Staying Informed and Finding Comfort
Audiences have traditionally viewed TV as a trusted medium for staying informed on the latest local and national events, and this has never been more evident than during the past year. In light of COVID-19, people are relying on local TV news as their preferred way to stay informed on how the pandemic is affecting their community. Beyond the pandemic, during the pivotal 2020 U.S. presidential race, TV also continued to reign as the most influential form of media during a voter’s process of deciding on a candidate. This trust has reaffirmed how TV continues to be integral to our day-to-day lives.
On the flip side, when audiences need a break from the latest news, TV serves as an escape from the stress of living during a global pandemic. TV’s “virtual water cooler effect”—its ability to bring people together through virtual viewing parties, social media discussions and more—has never been more important. With more time at home than ever, TV viewers are working their way through “must-watch” lists in addition to revisiting old favorites—shows that remind them of loved ones they can’t see in person right now, less chaotic times or simply can provide a much-needed laugh.
Advertisers, Remember That Choice is King (& Measurement is Essential)
Even with all the “whys” for audiences flocking to TV during stressful times in mind, it’s still important to note that viewership trends are continually in flux. This is due in large part to the fact that audiences now have more options than ever, which makes them all the more selective about which networks, streaming services, apps and shows are truly worth their valuable time (and money). For advertisers, defining audiences, finding them in a fragmenting inventory pool and effectively and efficiently reaching them will never be a one-and-done job. TV is redefining itself in real time, viewership patterns will always change and content will never truly be one-size-fits all—which is why advertisers need to always be committed to learning.
Specifically, in order to stay on top of these evolving viewing habits, advertisers need to be able to answer three key questions: Do you really know where your audiences are? Are they taking actions? And are there audiences responding to your brand that you didn’t even know about? The only way to know for sure is to continually measure the impact of cross-platform TV ads and then make those insights actionable to consistently improve performance.
Increasing and changing TV viewing across platforms means that impression-based, always-on, cross-platform TV attribution and measurement are more critical than ever. The crucial phrase is “always-on,” able to process data 24/7/365 to keep up with dynamic shifts in behavior. It’s essentially measuring TV “how people watch it”: across time, platforms and screens.
Moving forward, deeper, more precise audience analytics afforded by deterministic data will become the new norm for OTT and data-driven linear campaigns. This means that testing and learning is going to be an ongoing tactic as advertisers use control groups to determine which audience segments are worth the investment (and which are not) and discover exactly where to find them. Over time, layering in publishers can significantly help enhance your audience targeting strategy, increasing reach and outcomes.
Whether it’s to educate, serve as a much-needed form of escapism, remind us that we’re not alone during a time of crisis or reach engaged audiences and drive significant performance (across platforms and screens), TV’s importance has never been more clear.