The long awaited communications strategy paper (published by the DCMS at the end of July) has reconfirmed the government’s support for the abolition of PSB retransmission fees, which was also the topic of my previous research note. Another topic of interest, however, is the government’s commitment to ensuring ‘that the PSBs retain prominence on EPGs by updating the existing regime to reflect technological developments and to make it flexible to adapt to future changes’ with the cost of not doing so (evaluated in the accompanying impact assessment) being put at a £198m ‘loss in UK and European originated and independent content investment’.
This has put the issue of EPG prominence back in the spotlight, and is likely to be a point of some contention in the forthcoming consultation. The PSBs will naturally be in favour of any legislation securing their future prominence as EPGs evolve in an increasingly fragmented and on-demand viewing environment, while the (non-PSB) commercial broadcasters will understandably be against extending any legislation that could be seen as distorting the market in favour of their PSB rivals.
What is unlikely to be in doubt, however, is the growing consensus about the very significant value that can be attached to EPG prominence. My recent work for Ofcom on the audience impact of EPG prominence, which reviews the recent empirical evidence from 2010 to 2012, highlights how channel operators who don’t manage to secure prominent EPG slots for their channels almost always lose out. To emphasise this point, it is always good to look at a particularly interesting and recent example, and MTV’s move from the Music to a prominent slot in the Entertainment section of the Virgin Media EPG (from slot 311 to 134) on 31/05/2013 stands out, as MTV made a similar move on Sky in February 2011, the impact of which I’ve also covered in a previous research note.
It is certainly the case that MTV’s Share of viewing on the Virgin Media platform increased by a dramatic 357% (from 0.085 to 0.387 Share points) in the 6-week before versus the 6-week period after its gain in EPG prominence, resulting in a statistically significant structural break in its daily Share time series at the time of the reshuffle. This is in stark contrast to MTV’s daily Share time series on Sky, which remained statistically stable over the period in question.
There is, however, a complicating factor to consider as MTV also moved from the L to the M+ package as part of its move into the Entertainment section of the Virgin Media EPG. With lower tier M+ subscribers being able to watch MTV for the first time, it is important to assess how much of MTV’s performance boost can be attributed to its gain in EPG prominence and how much to its increased availability. As it happens, Cartoon Network also recently (17/01/2013) moved from the L to the M+ package, but (crucially) without changing its EPG slot. The increase in Cartoon Network’s availability resulted in a doubling of its Virgin Media audience, suggesting that (as MTV’s audience more than quadrupled) at least two-thirds of MTV’s 357% performance boost on the Virgin Media platform can be attributed to its gain in EPG prominence.
For any remaining sceptics it is worth quickly mentioning one other recent example, namely that of Drama, UKTV’s latest channel, which launched in early July 2013 in slot 20 on Freeview and slot 291 (at the bottom of the Entertainment section) on Sky. Following a deal with PBS, however, Drama managed to move to slot 166 on the Sky EPG within a few weeks of its launch. This gain in Sky EPG prominence coincided with a doubling of its Share of viewing on the Sky platform, while its performance on Freeview (where it remained in slot 20) remained statistically stable.
The underlying moral of the story (and forgive me for stating the obvious) is that whatever the item you are selling, be it a new line of perfume/clothing, a TV channel or a piece of VOD content, being prominently displayed in the shop-front will produce results.
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