TV viewership hits all-time high; but brands pull back on ad spends

NARAYANAN V Chennai | Updated on April 06, 2020

It’s the best of times and worst of times for the TV advertising industry. On one hand, the historically high level of TV viewership offers a great opportunity for brands to connect with consumers. On the other, the present lockdown, looming threat of a recession and uncertainty over future operations are forcing companies to cut down their ad spending to focus only on bare essentials.

“Should we ride this opportunity wave and continue to advertise, or should we pull back and wait for the normal times is a true dilemma that advertisers are having now,” Elango M, Vice-President, FCBInterface Communications, an end-to-end branding and advertising solutions company.

Some of the leading clients of FCBInterface, which is a part of the FCB network in India, include Blue Star, Nivea, Oreo, the Mahindra Group, Cipla and Quikr.

Elango, who estimates the industry to lose around 30-40 per cent business this season, said that many FMCG advertisers are not pulling back on campaigns, hoping that the salience that brands enjoy now will be helpful when things get back to normal.

TV viewership in India has been on the peak ever since the 21-day nationwide lockdown was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24.

Increase in TV time

According to a recent report released by television monitoring agency BARC (Broadcast Audience Research Council) and marketing research firm Nielsen, TV consumption hit an all-time high of 1.2 trillion minutes during March 21-27. The consumption is 37 per cent higher than the comparable pre-Covid-19 period (January 11-31).

As a result, average daily FCT (free commercial time) also grew by six lakh seconds (15 per cent) during March 21-27. The food and beverages category recorded the highest increase in FCT share followed by personal care and hygiene products.

FCT refers to the amount of seconds bought on a channel for advertising.

“The current spike in TV viewership is due to lockdown, and people are not watching TV out of interest. So this cannot be a big booster for the advertisement industry,” said M Lawrance, Director of Chennai-based Ice Media, which provides branding, ad film making (production), corporate videos and ad film release services for television media.

“Our business has gone down by 70-80 per cent this month as compared to last year. We already saw some decline in March; but for April, it is fully washed out,” Lawrance said.

Some of the advertising clients of Ice Media include CavinKare, Milky Mist, Bharat Matrimony and Sakthi Masala.

“Our food category ads are going on, but in that too, we have reduced the number of channels and are focussing only on news channels,” Lawrance added.

Time to engage

But industry experts say this is the right time for brands to come forward and advertise and engage with the consumers.

“This is the time when consumers have all the time in the world. If you don’t advertise now, when things come back to normal, you tend to lose a lot in the medium term,” said N Chandramouli, a brand expert and CEO of TRA Research.

“Because some contrarian companies are advertising now, so customers naturally tend to gravitate towards those brands,” he added.

Chandramouli also said the advantage which brands enjoyed before Covid-19, may not be available to them after the crisis is over, because people have become cautious with their preference and approach.

“Whenever something unexpected challenges the society, it is also an opportunity for brands to show empathy and engage with consumers through socially relevant messaging,” said FCBInterface’s Elango.

Typically, the festival months (October-December) are considered to be peak season for advertising. A quick recovery may help the industry to recoup its losses.

“Even if the worst is over by May-June, we should be back for the festival season,” Lawrance of Ice Media said.

Published on April 06, 2020

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