Eskom kept the nation on tenterhooks by first announcing rolling loadshedding in December, and then quickly reversing the statement and promising to keep our Christmas lights shining. This good news was rapidly offset by intimations that we can look forward to a severe roster of high-risk ‘red’ days in February and March 2015.
Clearly this intended intense loadshedding exercise will have dire implications for television advertisers and broadcasters alike. We have already experienced the first bout of national loadshedding over 5 – 7 December, which gives us a good indication of the sad things to come. Viewership figures took a heavy beating. For example, Muvhango, which is broadcast on SABC2 on a Friday night, lost some 32.3% of its Sotho speaking adult audience, while SABC1’s The X-Factor on the Saturday lost some 22.1% of its Nguni speaking audience. On SABC3, the Xtra Factor on Friday shed 25.8% of its English speaking audience and the Friday 1900 Nuus shed some 29.7% of its Afrikaans adult audience. More broadly Metropolitan audiences showed declines of up to 25% over this weekend, while rural audiences, who have fewer alternative entertainment options than their metropolitan counterparts, fell by up to 32%.
Curiously it seems that the broadcasters have not yet been inundated by the media agencies requesting compensation for these audience losses. In part, this could be due to the agencies focusing on tying up the year-end and bedding down campaigns for the New Year. It is also because most agencies tend only to assess their television campaign performances when they run their formal post campaigns after the campaign has run. The problem with this is that it is then too late to correct any shortfalls. Although the 5 – 7 December fell into the ‘high’ advertising season, the balance of the campaign performing as projected could buffer the impact of three days of poor viewership figures. If the proposed February and March loadshedding schedules come into play, then it is unlikely that this balancing will occur.
There are two solutions to tackling the potential heavy loadshedding in 2015. The first is that advertisers ensure that their agencies become more pro-active in monitoring the “in campaign” performance of their schedules – i.e. track the campaign while it is running and make the appropriate adjustments to achieve the desired objectives. The second is that advertisers make use of guaranteed trading packages, whereby the broadcaster undertakes to deliver a certain number of set ratings for a set price. The broadcasters manage these packages on a daily basis and can make the required adjustments to deliver the campaign performance within the agreed parameters.
Unfortunately neither of these solutions is without issues. In the first instance, we need to remember that broadcasters do not guarantee performance if the schedules are planned and bought outside of the guaranteed trading package model. At one time the broadcasters tended to be generous in their willingness to compensate for perceived poor performance – even when the blame might have been more attributable to an inexperienced agency planner not having made the necessary adjustments to his or her projections. But those days are over and in these constrained times the broadcasters are as subject to the scrutiny of auditors as the marketers and agencies are.
A possible up side is that any compensation that broadcasters are likely to be offer would be in additional advertising time. In the first quarter of the year, broadcaster sell-out ratios are relatively low making it fairly easy to accommodate compensation. Of course, this approach often translates into advertisers having to take off peak spots to build the audiences they have lost. Being quick off the mark in picking up shortfalls will ensure that the advertiser is compensated with the best quality available time.
In the second instance – that of guaranteed packages – the emphasis tends to be on the broadcasters’ maximising their available inventory. This does not lead to a particularly high proportion of prime-time spots sold in this way. Many advertisers therefore tend to utilise the guaranteed trading packages to augment their carefully chosen prime-time buys, rather than allocate their entire budget to the broadcasters’ control.
It is clear that the media agencies will be returning from their Christmas breaks, with an increased work as they have to address the impact of the initial rounds of load shedding and stabilize television campaign performances through the first quarter. With no quick fix for the Eskom debacle, this situation is likely to persist through 2015 making it a challenging year for the television broadcasters.
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