Lockdown TV: TV is still a key source of comfort and a valued facilitator of family time

To help understand the changes to TV viewing, Thinkbox commissioned Ipsos to conduct a new real-time study following 12 households across the UK as their routines, needs and viewing habits change week by week.

As the nation stays home and TV viewing soars (up 24% since lockdown began to an average of 3 hours, 40 minutes a day per viewer, some 5 hours extra a week) a new study of the first weeks of lockdown has revealed how the pandemic is changing how and why we watch TV.

‘Lockdown TV’, commissioned by Thinkbox from Ipsos, is based on video diaries being kept by 12 households across the UK. They are each keeping track of their TV viewing habits as the nation adjusts to spending much more time at home. Excerpts from the video diaries are available to watch online.

Our latest update, Wave 3, reveals that:

  • There is an increasing appetite for more variation in TV creative, as long as brands are sensitive to the current context.
  • There are clear ways that brands can maximise budgets whilst staying contextually relevant.
  • TV is still a key source of comfort and a valued facilitator of family time.

There is an increasing appetite for more variation in TV creative

After six weeks of lockdown, it’s clear that an appetite for ‘lighter’ ads is starting to emerge.  The sensitive and reflective tone taken by many advertisers in their TV creative so far has been appreciated.  Viewers have welcomed brands’ efforts to reassure them and highlight their social responsibility, but there now appears to be room for variation as we enter the latter stages of lockdown.  Several participants mentioned that many from the initial wave of COVID ads were becoming less distinguishable from one another, and that brands needed to work hard to stand out.  They also discussed how they’d appreciate some ‘light relief’ in TV creative, as long as it is done responsibly.

There are clear ways that brands can maximise creativity whilst staying contextually relevant

As we continue to sail through the unchartered waters of lockdown, it’s clear that viewers are far more attuned to seeing ads that reflect real people and situations – even if they are craving a bit of light-heartedness.

Although overt selling is viewed as less tasteful by our viewers, unless relevant to the current situation, there is a strong opportunity for brand building.  This is especially true for advertisers who can tap into the viewer need for human connection, or highlight ways in which people can productively distract themselves from the situation (e.g. creative ideas for the home).

Participants were open to ‘cheaper’ creative formats such as self-filmed ads or re-runs of old favourites – as long as they remain culturally relevant today. This is positive news when production budgets and capabilities have taken such a severe hit. As production budgets and capabilities are inevitably reduced, this is positive news. 

TV is still a key source of comfort and a valued facilitator of family time.

TV is as valued now for regulating mood and reducing anxiety as it was at the start of lockdown.  It’s also cherished facilitator of family time, which for many, has been one of the biggest benefits to the current situation.

Implications and opportunities for advertisers

  • As lockdown progresses, there is a real opportunity for advertisers to provide some light relief.  Audiences are receptive to ‘cheaper’ production methods - such as self-filming or running classic ads - as long as brand tap into existing needs (such as the need for connection, comfort or distraction) and remain sensitive to the current situation.
  • The COVID crisis is shaking up buying behaviours, many of which have been entrenched for years. For those able to invest, TV advertising provides an opportunity to build new or enhanced brand relationships that may last well beyond lockdown.
  • Viewers are watching content together that inspires ‘doing’ – cooking, crafting, exercise – genres of content that they hadn’t considered before. Brands fitting these categories have an opportunity to build contextual brand awareness through advertising.
  • Many are spending evenings watching films with their family, planning ads around family classics or nostalgic content during this time could deliver high returns.
  • TV is not only a source of comfort at the moment, but also trust and truthfulness. While viewers are looking for reliability, this is a great opportunity to build a relationship with consumers and form brand loyalty. Advertisers should make sure they’re authentic, contextual, and respectful to the situation.
  • Sports fans are looking for a replacement. While classic games are filling a void, big TV events are being produced to simulate the atmosphere of a sport event, and tongue-in-cheek content is emerging to open up placeholder genres or hobbies to a wider audience - all of which could allow for some clever sponsorship opportunities.

In summary

  • The COVID crisis has changed our relationship with TV creative.  As lockdown progresses, there’s an increasing desire for humour and distraction, and advertisers have license to incorporate cheaper production methods - as long as they demonstrate a ‘duty of care’ to their audience. 
  • Lockdown has created major shifts in both viewing and buying behaviour. There is a heightened state of consumer consciousness and a greater demand to see real people and situations reflected in TV ads.
  • We’re living through unprecedented times and TV is providing a source of comfort and commonality with those around us - both in our households and beyond - and an important means of creating structure within our new, lockdown lives.
  • TV news is as especially important as the appetite for up-to-date, reliable and trusted information increases.  Although the ‘news blues’ is becoming an issue for some, TV news bulletins enable viewers to manage their exposure more effectively.  Meanwhile the wealth of entertaining TV content in the UK provides some much-needed light relief.


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