Mediatel’s Steven Scaffardi speaks with key figures from the broadcast media world to discuss how they have dealt with the coronavirus crisis – and what comes next for commercial TV

Steven Scaffardi (Chair): Good afternoon and welcome everybody to this special virtual roundtable debate for the Future of TV Advertising UK fortnight.

With us we have Sarah Jones (Director of Planning, Sky Media), Kate McVeigh (Vice President, International Client Strategy & Development, CNBC International), Rob Bradley (Senior Vice President, CNN International Commercial), Matt Salmon, Sales Director, Channel 4), Lindsey Clay (CEO, Thinkbox), Mark Trinder(Director of Commercial Sales and Partnerships, ITV) and Christian Kurz (Senior Vice President, Global Consumer Insights, Viacom CBS).

Future of TV Advertising panel
Mediatel’s Steven Scaffardi spoke with key figures from the broadcast media world to discuss how they have dealt with the coronavirus crisis

Let’s get down to it and start with you Lindsey. As the CEO of the marketing body for the main UK commercial TV broadcasters, what has impressed you the most with how TV has reacted to the coronavirus crisis?

Lindsey Clay: The speed, the positivity, and the creativity. The broadcasters have been swift to adapt their schedules and rise to the challenge. We have seen TV’s creativity at its broadest, from initiatives on mental health and the clap for carers, to a brilliant Saturday Night Takeaway with no audience, chat and news shows shot from home, classic sport reinvigorated, and Jamie Oliver helping us to keep cooking and carry on.

Steven Scaffardi (Chair): And the same question to the rest of the panel, starting at home here in the UK with ITV, Channel 4 and Sky. How do you think the broadcasters have reacted?

Mark Trinder: I think UK Television has reacted brilliantly. Be that programming, news, editorial decisions, scheduling, balancing the loss of programmes with creating new and bringing back favourites, accommodating advertiser challenges with great flexibility, incentives and creativity. 

Matt Salmon: I’m constantly impressed by the power TV in the UK has not only to entertain but to inform, educate and ultimately change behaviour. At times of national crisis TV, and especially public service broadcasting takes on a unique role in our society – for Channel 4 that means that now more than ever we must ensure we our speaking to the audiences we were created to serve. 

Sarah Jones:From a Sky perspective, we are seeing a huge increase in news consumption across all platforms and all demographics – Sky news linear is up over 150% year on year, and across the month of March we had 130m news video views on YouTube. 

This agility has also transcended into the TV advertising space too. Despite the industry working from their kitchens and bedrooms, we’ve kept brands on air, commercial schedules have been filled, and we have produced new creative executions for brands looking to deliver more relevant messaging and got them on air within a matter of days. 

Steven Scaffardi (Chair): What learnings can we take from broadcasters from around the world too, and what have the likes of CNN, CNBC and Viacom been doing in reaction to the pandemic?

Rob Bradley:International news organisations have an important role to report on developments and share information that can help stop the spread of COVID-19 – this applies to our TV output of course, but also across the wider ecosystem of platforms where we are publishing content. 

It is particularly important to have trusted news sources to turn to because of the danger of misinformation growing exponentially during the current crisis – latest research from Ofcom shows that half of the people in the UK have come across false or misleading information about COVID-19. 

These spurious stories and ill-informed advice shared on social media and in private messaging groups can literally cost lives, so it’s essential that people can rely on a trusted news brand for news and information. 

Kate McVeigh: I’ve always been a believer in the power of TV, and have loved how trusted news networks, locally and internationally, have provided comfort and information to their audiences during this period of uncertainty. These are unprecedented times and I am continually impressed by the commitment of our journalists and the production teams to covering these stories at risk to themselves, ensuring that the audience demand for trusted content is met. 

Christian Kurz: I continue to be impressed with how quickly and creatively productions have been adapted to meet the demands of the current crisis. We are seeing more news programs and entertainment specials that are being produced remotely, such as “One World: Together at Home,” which aired globally on ViacomCBS’ networks. 

The creativity and flexibility we have seen on the part of production companies, crews and talent is impressive. Wherever you look, the audience is at the center of considerations, and the TV industry is continuing to inform and entertain during this tough time. 

Steven Scaffardi (Chair): We have mentioned that many shows are being recorded straight from the presenter’s homes, which truly reflects the mantra of “The show must go on” but is Stephen Allan (Worldwide Chairman and CEO of MediaCom) correct in his assessment that the lack of new content being created during lockdown will lead to the “perfect storm” for broadcasters?

Mark Trinder: On one hand Coronation Street and Emmerdale have had to cease production, but we produce a number of weeks ahead and have reduced weekly episode transmission to 3 each versus 6 (per programme) so we’re hopeful that we can cover this period. Live programming and planned audience participation programmes are on hold and of course all Sport is currently cancelled or postponed. On the other hand – The ‘virtual Grand National’ had an audience of 4.3m and raised £2.6m for the NHS. 

Christian Kurz: Across the board, we’re seeing audiences tune-in across our linear and streaming platforms, with ratings and share of viewing on the rise. 

We’re committed to supporting our audiences who are impacted by COVID-19 through our global relief efforts, public awareness campaigns and dedicated programming, as well what we call our “adaptive creativity” – in other words, our agile approach to creating and delivering content in this uniquely challenging environment. 

It’s a challenge but broadcasters are demonstrating great innovation and agility” – Lindsey Clay

Matt Salmon: This crisis is undoubtedly having an impact on our revenues and as an ad-funded broadcaster, our schedule, which is why we have announced a range of financial measures to help us through this difficult period. Ian and the team have said quite clearly there are a number of productions that have been delayed and some which regrettably will not be happening. 

But we remain confident we will continue to have a range of high quality programming on offer over the year for our viewers and advertisers – we’ve already announced and in some cases aired a number of brand new commissions – the key here is to continue to respond to our audience needs in the unique way that only Channel 4 can – which I believe we are doing and will continue to do.

Sarah Jones: Aside from the obvious gap in live sports, from a Sky perspective there is less impact on our current schedule, than there may be for broadcasters who are more reliant on entertainment shows and soaps. 

We’ve made significant strides in the content space in recent years both in investment and recognition with shows like Chernobyl, Save Me and we will continue to release new original and US content which is massively helped by being part of the Comcast family. Not having all your eggs in one basket is key to Sky’s growth and success. 

Lindsey Clay: It’s a challenge but broadcasters are demonstrating great innovation and agility. Plus, it is important to remember that programme budgets have mostly been deferred. So, we can look forward to a post-pandemic glut of great programming. 

In the meantime, they have a lot on the stocks and vast back catalogues – back catalogues that have helped propel services like Netflix to prominence (and which are now being taken back from Netflix). With more time at home, audiences are experimenting and a repeat is only a repeat if you have seen it before.

Steven Scaffardi (chair): Is it a different picture for broadcasters like CNN and CNBC who are more news-led than the likes of a Channel 4 or ITV?

Kate McVeigh: We are in a more fortunate position of not relying on commissioned feature programming. We have been focused on covering the stories with a business lens, and delivering the facts and unbiased analysis, not via rolling and often repetitive breaking news headlines like other channels. With markets moving at such a breakneck rate our editorial content is more essential now than ever. 

Rob Bradley: We face a nuanced version of this challenge at CNN. As much of our content is rolling news, it is not a challenge so much of running out of shows as we can continue reporting breaking and developing news. 

However, our production teams have had to be creative in how we produce stand-alone features programming that acts as a counterpoint to our news coverage. 

Steven Scaffardi (Chair): A lot of advertisers have reacted in a positive manner to the crisis. What has been your favourite TV ad during this period and why?

Sarah Jones: I really like what Channel 4 have done with their talent led Stay at Home idents for the Government – I’m a big John Snow fan so love his ironing execution. Fingers crossed he will do his socks next. 

One of the reasons I like this so much, is that it is delivering an important message in a light way – and all of us need a bit of levity in such a difficult and uncertain time.

Brands that ‘go dark’ see a negative impact on brand relationship metrics, losing affinity, image, loyalty” – Rob Bradley

Kate McVeigh: The NHS ads – they’re vital and full of critical information for viewers at this time, and South African Tourism – “Don’t travel now so that you can travel later.” I love that this ad is sensitive to the environment and has an optimistic tone.

Lindsey Clay:There are loads (in fact there is a Crisis Creativity player on our website here). But I’m a sucker for an emotional ad and I particularly like the Tesco Food love stories one. 

It is a seamless part of their existing campaign and works just as well if not better in Lockdown. Tesco are definitely having a good crisis.

Matt Salmon: I agree with Lindsey, I’m loving the Food Love Stories ads that Tesco have created – in fact the whole supermarket sector has responded phenomenally in my opinion. We all know that TV has always been the very best place to build your brand and in the present situation brands that have the budget to continue to make powerful brand creatives will undoubtedly resonate with the huge audiences that are available. 

Being part of the unique conversation that is happening in millions of homes across the country is a huge opportunity as audiences look to trusted brands to make sense of an unsettling situation. 

Christian Kurz: I want to acknowledge all brands and advertisers who are keeping up their spend. During a time of crisis, it is even more important to continue communicating with consumers, and we are seeing some truly creative ways of doing that. 

Many organisations are changing their businesses to adapt to the time by enabling remote services of need, and those new capabilities have to be communicated to potential customers. 

Mark Trinder: McCain Here’s To Everyone #StayHome. Although an existing, long running TV campaign, McCain quickly recorded and new VO (Ricky Tomlinson remotely) as soon as we hit the ‘lockdown period’. Topical, powerful and true to the values of the ongoing campaign. Brilliant!

Rob Bradley: Guinness have been getting their advertising right from as early as I can remember. Their ‘We Will Toast Again’ ad was brilliant. It hits all the right spots of being uplifting, reassuring and just…very Guinness. There is plenty of research showing why brands should still run ads during a crisis and during Coronavirus. 

Analysis from Kantar shows that 60% of brands that ‘go dark’ see a negative impact on brand relationship metrics, losing affinity, image, loyalty. 

Steven Scaffardi (Chair): Many media analysts believe this pandemic will accelerate huge changes in consumer behaviour. With that in mind, what is the future of TV advertising?

Rob Bradley: One area of particular interest will be around immersive experiences. For us at CNN, TV advertising is just one component of a sophisticated media mix. As we have seen consumers take to immersive experiences – for instance, tour the Louvre Abu Dhabi virtually if you can’t be there in real life like you had planned to be – the case for greater adoption of VR/AR into multi-platform advertising, content creation and marketing campaigns will grow even when we can travel again. 

Mark Trinder: I see a strong future for TV and TV advertising. This challenging period has seen the public, our viewers, turn to TV as both a trusted source of information and advice and a provider of comfort and entertainment. 

What seems to be different about this crisis is that much of the demand for products and services is being pent up rather than completely lost” – Matt Salmon

Advertisers are seeing this through audience performance and ‘come together’ moments e.g. Clap for Carers and many advertisers are working with us to create topical and contextual campaigns at breakneck speed. 

I do feel that this period will make advertisers think differently about their messaging and overall campaigns moving forward. 

Matt Salmon: What seems to be different about this crisis, compared to previous recessions, is that much of the demand for products and services is being pent up rather than completely lost. This means that when the lockdown starts to lift, the role of brands will be significant, and the power of TV as important as it was before, if not more so.

Sarah Jones: In these unusual times people are coming back to TV to be entertained and informed with uplifts across the board. Younger audiences, in particular, are viewing significantly more TV than pre-COVID, and we would hope that they continue to spend time with the content they love on our channels. 

This crisis has accelerated on-demand viewing, as people seek out content at different times of the day that they want to watch. Again, we would expect this trend to continue, so brands and agencies should ensure they are investing in TV in a platform agnostic way in order to maximise reach of their audiences.

Christian Kurz: I do think there will be changes in consumer behaviour. What we have been seeing so far is significant uptick in viewership – both linear and on-demand. Plus, the most trusted source of information – TV is continuing to deliver for the audience. 

Companies have to sell their wares. Once everybody has figured out how to logistically do that, the need for communication will be greater than before as consumers may need to learn new ways of doing and buying things. Long-term brand communication is incredibly important.

As such, I don’t see this specific event as having a significant long-term impact on advertising.

Kate McVeigh: According to GlobalWebIndex, 95% of audiences across 13 markets globally say they are consuming more content since the start of the pandemic, with TV as one of the primary mediums. On the other side of the pandemic we’ll see the continuation of flexible working and working from home, which will continue the resurgence we’re seeing in TV viewing. 

Steven Scaffardi (Chair): Lindsey, you had the first word so it seems fitting you have the last so I will leave you to give the final thought on the future of TV advertising.

Lindsey Clay: TV’s future is already here, it just isn’t evenly distributed. Now the changes that were already happening in TV via data and tech are accelerating and creating a hugely bright future for TV advertising. When we come through this crisis, advertisers will look to increase their efficiency as budgets may be reduced. 

The increasing availability and targeting capabilities of addressable TV advertising, for example, will be a powerful way to deliver this. 

And, advertisers are likely going to want to reduce the risk of their advertising investments. We know from studies such as ‘Profit Ability’ and ‘Demand Generation’ that TV delivers the highest returns with the least risk, so this bodes well for its future.

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