Question: What has impressed you the most with how TV has reacted to the coronavirus crisis?

Sarah: Firstly, it’s good to see that TV remains the go-to source for trusted information; in unprecedented times, TV is providing the amplification of guidance and news the nation is after and needs. From a Sky perspective, we are seeing a huge increase in news consumption across all platforms and all demographics – Sky news linear is up over 150% year-on-year, and across the month of March we had 130 million news video views on YouTube.

From a content perspective, it has been amazing to see how quickly broadcasters have reacted to make programming that is relevant now, despite the huge limitations there are on filming. Seeing popstars performing in their living rooms, and quiz shows like ‘Have I got news for you’ being broadcast as video meetings has been a personal highlight.

This agility has also transcended into the TV advertising space too. Despite the industry working from their kitchens and bedrooms, we’ve kept brands on air, commercial schedules have been filled, and we have produced new creative executions for brands looking to deliver more relevant messaging and got them on air within a matter of days. For a channel that has traditionally been perceived as having longer lead times, I feel like we have smashed those preconceptions out of the park. We are in a new era of agile TV.

Woman sat on stage talking
Sarah Jones, Director of Planning at Sky Media

Question: Worldwide Chairman and CEO of MediaCom, Stephen Allan, said broadcast media are facing a “perfect storm”, referring to the fact that TV audiences have gone up, but channels risk running out of shows. What is your take on that, and what specifically are Sky doing to combat this perfect storm?

Sarah: Aside from the obvious gap in live sports, from a Sky perspective there is less impact on our current schedule than there may be for broadcasters who are more reliant on entertainment shows and soaps. We’ve made significant strides in the content space in recent years, both in investment and recognition with shows like ‘Chernobyl’ and ‘Save Me’, and we will continue to release new original and U.S. content, which is massively helped by being part of the Comcast family.

We’ve recently launched Sky Crime and Sky Comedy with strong content and viewing, and at the end of May will be launching Sky Documentaries, Sky Nature and we have committed extra investment in the relaunch of History as Sky History.

Where production is affected we are working hard to adapt – we’ve already shown that with shows like ‘Russell Howard at Home’ on Sky One and ‘The Virtual F1 Grand Prix’ on Sky Sports and we’ve just announced Sky Arts, Portrait Artist of the Week, which is coming to Facebook.

Not having all your eggs in one basket is key to Sky’s growth and success. We aren’t solely reliant on advertising revenue as subscriptions, transactional VOD and OTT services balance out areas of the business that may be more under pressure. We’re taking care of our customers, whether that’s free phone calls, extra phone data or the ability to pause their Sky Sports. This means our relationship with Sky homes stays strong for the long term.

Our priority continues to be the well-being of our customers and people, including all of the production partners that make our shows.

Question: A lot of advertisers have reacted in a positive manner to the crisis. What has been your favourite TV ad during this period and why?

Sarah: I really like what Channel 4 have done with their talent-led Stay at Home idents for the Government – I’m a big John Snow fan so love his ironing execution. Fingers crossed he will do his socks next. One of the reasons I like this so much is that it is delivering an important message in a light way – and all of us need a bit of levity in such a difficult and uncertain time.

EE’s Kevin Bacon campaign giving unlimited data to NHS Staff is a great example of a brand pivoting their proposition to support the people who need it most. Tesco launching Food Love Stories dedicated to loved ones shows how an existing idea can be applied brilliantly to make it relevant to now. Plus, in my house we are really running out of food ideas, so any inspiration is good!

Last week we helped Publicis launch an ad for a group of their brands to encourage people to shop responsibly which ran across Sky, our media partners, and ITV and [Channel] 4. We turned the creative around in just a few days, which again demonstrates how agile we can be, even when working conditions are challenging.

Question: Many media analysts believe this pandemic will accelerate huge changes in consumer behaviour. With that in mind, what is the future of TV advertising?

Sarah: The threat of change has been coming for years, but TV has always managed to evolve and adapt. In these unusual times people are coming back to TV to be entertained and informed with uplifts across the board. Younger audiences, in particular, are viewing significantly more TV than pre-Covid, and we would hope that they continue to spend time with the content they love on our channels.

This crisis has accelerated on-demand viewing, as people seek out content at different times of the day that they want to watch. Again, we would expect this trend to continue, so brands and agencies should ensure they are investing in TV in a platform-agnostic way in order to maximise reach of their audiences.

Working from home is obviously a directive at the moment, but as we move out of lockdown, at Sky we are planning to ensure the flexibility that working from home offers continues. We would expect this to be consistent with a lot of office-based work. This may have a knock-on effect to routines changing, and media consumption as people spend less time commuting and more time at home.

The lockdown has been huge for online retail too, which we would also expect to continue. While this might suggest that brands pour more money into digital, we know how important TV is in building digital brands and driving short-term response – last year online businesses were the highest spending category on TV.

Finally, from an industry perspective, the agility that TV has demonstrated during this period is a real step-change, and I’m excited about the potential of what this offers brands who are looking to connect with their audiences in a timely and relevant way.

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