EPG advertising – what is it and why might it work?

TV by Lubs Mary. FlickrBroadcasters across the globe are continually seeking ways to drive viewers to their TV programming lineups. Many are executing extensive promotions that blend traditional ad buys and social media to drive viewers to their new or returning shows.

But according to recent Rovi analysis, another highly effective ad strategy that US networks are employing to boost viewership is to advertise in the interactive program guide (IPG).

In other words they are choosing to promote shows by delivering advanced advertising within the TV grid – the very place people go when they are searching for something to watch on TV.

This makes a great deal of sense – so why are we not seeing the same push in the UK?

EPG advertising, as it is known in Europe, is not widely utilised, and this type of promotion has been met with trepidation from some of the big pay-TV operators that feel it may detract from the overall user experience.

However, whilst the practicalities may differ from our US counterparts, data shows that this perception is without foundation. Our research highlights that if carried out the right way these marketing efforts can actually enhance the search and discovery experience and be welcomed by viewers. Whilst the practices we see in the US cannot always be readily implemented here in the UK, there’s a great deal to be learnt from the successes in a more mature market. By applying some of the techniques already in practice, broadcasters in the UK too can enhance consumer engagement and drive interaction with content.

Rovi studies have found that that EPG advertising is a highly effective way to drive program audiences. It certainly helps that virtually all consumers rely on the EPG to find out what is on TV. According to Rovi’s return-path data from cable set-top boxes, 85% of households in the US use the EPG weekly and, on average, visit it nearly 13 times a day for a total of 22 minutes. Visits have increased by more than 50% in the past two years and, more importantly, advertisements within the EPG are being noticed by 81% of viewers with more than half of consumers noted that they are actually open to advertisements while searching for programs to watch. In fact, 72% of respondents are positive about this type of advertising indicating that they think of the ads viewed through their TV’s program guide as useful information or content rather than advertising.

One of the most resounding takeaways from recent studies is how dramatically ad frequency can impact audience lift. A recent US study compared the results of three season premiere campaign strategies over a three week period; starting with a program premiere.  The strategies consisted of multiple ad units, as well as varying calls to action and flights.  Each promoted a set of programs both new and recurring with the goal of increasing audiences. One of the Networks (Network 1/Premiere Only) focused on driving live tune-in with the bulk of the ads placed during the week of the premiere. A second Network (Network 2/Catch Up) focused more on catch up viewing with a heavier ad focus on the week following the premiere. The third Network (Network 3/Premiere & Sustain) created more of a sustaining promotion by heavily promoting the season premiere and then continuing ad support in subsequent weeks.

Ad receptiveness – learnings from the UK 

The strength of these results suggests that if UK broadcasters can tap into their full capability, EPG ads could be a gold mine.

Innovative brands are already experimenting with similar techniques to EPG advertising with equally effective results; we’re increasingly seeing ad efforts within the guide experience and user interfaces on a wide range of smart TVs. A focal point of the smart TV experience, consumers see the interface of their smart TVs as a go-to destination go to find content available and recommendations for what to watch.

Our recent smart TV ad analysis, comparing two specific ad campaigns in Q4 2013, shows that consumers are significantly more favourable towards a brand when they are exposed to advertising on the platform, as compared to a non-exposed control group. Both brands – a global airline and a Hollywood blockbuster from a major studio -  had high awareness and claimed click-through rate, with the entertainment-based ads topping the list at 23% awareness and 11% click-through. Consumers exposed to these series of ads contributed to an increase in brand favourability of 77% and a 47% in brand association. Perhaps most relevant when we look at the possibility of live tune-in, the likelihood of consumers watching the related film in the cinema was also 93% higher amongst those exposed to Smart TV advertising.

Transitioning engagement to live tune-in 

The levels of increased engagement we see for adverts served within the discovery experience on smart TVs can only be good news for broadcasters. Advertising within TV guides, whilst not currently a common practice in the UK, has proven its effectiveness in the States and – when we look at overall receptiveness to ads within the entertainment environment overall – EPG advertising is an untapped market for broadcasters.

While more research will certainly be conducted when it comes to the battle for living room eyeballs in the UK, the EPG – when used correctly – is a powerful tool for broadcasters looking to augment traditional advertising spends to drive live tune-in.

Jon Hewson is advertising director, EMEA and LatAm, at Rovi Corp