Drama and comedy likely losers in digital revolution

Liz Thomas

Future investment in drama and comedy faces a serious threat from a decline in advertising caused by increased use of digital recorders, according to industry research.

In homes with facilities such as Sky Plus – a digital set-top box with a hard drive that allows viewers to record and view programmes when it suits them – 77% skip through advert breaks of shows, a trend experts argue will cause advertisers to abandon programmes that are most likely to be recorded. The study, conducted by media agency PHD, indicates that drama and comedy would be the genres hit hardest by such a move, with serious implications for future financing as channels lose revenue.

Tess Alps, chairman of PHD, said: “The problem here is that those programmes most likely to be recorded are usually drama serials or comedy shows and then most people fast-forward past the adverts. As technology develops, the issue is that advertisers will be less attracted to these shows, which means broadcasters can’t get the revenue back from these programmes and they become harder to fund.

“The irony is that default television, particularly lifestyle and reality shows, are the programmes most likely to be watched live and so will continue to attract advertisers and as they are cheaper and easier to make, they could well become more prevalent. This is a real concern for other more expensive and riskier genres like comedy and drama.”

Research predicted that by the end of the decade there would be an 8.7% decline in so-called ‘commercial impacts’ – the number of people who view an advert once.

Alps warned that while the threat was not immediate it was important not be underestimated in the long term, adding: “The recent advertising recession sent the television industry into a panic so in five or ten years it could be very serious. If these early findings continue then potentially we could lose a significant proportion of the value of TV advertising and many smaller channels will disappear.”

An ITV spokeswoman dismissed the concerns, commenting it was too early to assess the impact of the technology on its programmes.

Channel 4 said: “The way the recorders are used now is probably going to be very different from how they are going to be used in the future, so it is difficult to speculate over the implications. The channel remains committed to drama and comedy.”

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