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Opinion: A card-carrying Mancunian on confirmation bias among London’s media elite

16 March 2015 | analyst insight

LIBERUM OPINION: Ian Whittaker, Liberum Media Analyst

Email Ian or call him on: +44 (0) 20 3100 2089 

FEW north of Crouch End will be surprised to know that there is a massive gulf between how the British consume television and use their iPads and what London’s media elite think they’re doing. 

And that leads to some warped views of what’s actually going on.

Ian Whittaker

London media execs are as likely to visit the moon as Barnsley and believe the ‘provinces’ to be populated by red-trousered "Kippers". 

They are also sure that they understand the habits of the rest of the country because their teenage children spend every waking hour on Snapchat and FaceBook, with zero interest in Coronation Street. 

I was reminded of this confirmation bias when I looked at a fascinating survey by Thinkbox, which probed the media habits of the media elite and the normal - my emphasis - population. 

Your average metropolitan media luvvie assumes that Joe Public watches 1 hour and 43 minutes of live TV a day and that only 49% of all TV viewing is live.

In fact, it’s 4 hours and 12 minutes and 89% (the figures are from 2013 but unlikely to have changed significantly). 

We are watching as much live TV now as we did 10 years ago. 

Elsewhere, nearly four-fifths of the media elite use Twitter compared with the rest of the population at less than 20%.

Now it’s true that Thinkbox has skin in the game here as it is the trade body for the commercial TV broadcasters in the UK.

But its findings are important for two reasons. 

First, it suggests that the agencies' insistence on the relentless rise of digital and the need to shift advertising budgets away from TV to online is premature. Linear TV may be around for a lot longer than people expect (in the U.S. it remains by far the dominant form of video viewing). 

A statistic often missed is that while live TV viewing in the UK may be down from 2010, it is almost exactly the same as it was a decade ago, which suggests that the fall from recent years may be a reversal of the spike in live TV viewing we saw during the recession.

Second, advertisers risk shifting their budgets prematurely into a medium that is unproven and where there are major issues around fraud and transparency of pricing. 

It is almost a mantra amongst some advertisers to talk of the amount of money they are shifting to digital/online and that being digital automatically boosts sales. That is wrong. 

The key question is what works. On that score, linear TV has a future.