THE IMPACT OF LOADSHEDDING ON TV AUDIENCES AND SPORTS BROADCAST SPONSORSHIPS
Loadshedding – South Africa’s seemingly never-ending ‘pandemic’ – affects each and every one of us in some way. While traffic on the road is heavier than ever, traffic on TV is also facing some roadblocks. With broadcast media playing a massive role in the sports sponsorship’s world, we need to make sure that the TV ‘pointsmen’ are still allowing the audience traffic to flow so that our clients can reach their desired destination.
So, how much is loadshedding affecting general TV and sports viewership and what impact may this have on brands who choose to market in that space? We will focus on SuperSport as they are the primary sports broadcaster in the country. The data I reference in this piece is mainly courtesy of DStv Media Sales (DMS) and Telmar, utilising DStv’s panel which is used to measure viewership – namely the DStv-i panel.
It is key to start with the fact that it’s not all bad. Viewership is still there, and sport is still extremely popular on TV. However, viewership habits and trends are changing, and packages may require adjustment to account for this. According to DMS, the DStv platform has grown substantially over the last few years in terms of linear TV impressions, with a whopping 615% growth from 2019 to 2022. But, with loadshedding becoming more intense, the peak viewership levels at any given time have declined, unsurprisingly.
DMS also showed that in 2022, there was a 2.6% decrease in daily TVRs (TV ratings – a key measure of viewership) during stage 2 loadshedding compared to no loadshedding, and a 4.9% TVR decrease during stage 6, based on data from the DStv-i panel.
Nevertheless, impressions are still strongly accumulating over time. The TVR decrease is certainly not as bad as expected. Trends have remained consistent, with average weekly reach for DStv in general remaining stable during the first and second half of 2022, despite the significant increase in loadshedding in the latter half. What is most interesting is that when focusing on viewership in the first 3 months of 2022 vs 2023, the average viewing time per person per day has gone up from 2h18min to 2h36min – a noticeable increase despite the loadshedding. This can partly be attributed to the fact that viewers are heavily catching up on their TV viewing during the weekends, which is when people are at home and when the loadshedding stages generally tend to be lower.
Before moving on, it is worth mentioning that with the nature of the country’s economy and the growth in popularity of streaming services, DStv’s Premium package subscriptions are decreasing. However, their cheaper packages have become as important as ever, with the subscriber base for those packages showing growth. The cheaper packages generally include various soccer channels, but do not feature rugby, cricket or tennis channels or any other lower-reach sports.
So, back to viewership. From a sports perspective, the data is mixed. After 2 years in a row of significant growth in English Premier League viewership, viewership significantly dipped again in the first 4 months of this 2022/23 season. With the Premier League channel being available on the cheaper DStv Compact package, we cannot blame the decreasing Premium subscriber base for this – the decrease is most likely due to loadshedding. However, this is only part of the way into the season, and we will soon be able to see what the viewership trends were for the full season. The graph below shows how the average viewership per match decreased in the first part of the Premier League season.
Having said that, DStv Premiership viewership has risen by 19% – from an average of 319,745 views per match in the 2021/22 season, to a strong 381,552 views per match in the first few months of the 2022/23 season. While this may change when looking at the rest of the season, loadshedding was severe enough in the first part of the season to point toward the likelihood that the higher viewership will be maintained for the rest of the season.
Looking at tennis, DMS provided us with data which showed a 13% increase in live viewership of the 2023 Australian Open which took place in January, despite severe loadshedding. On the other side of things, repeats and highlights viewership was significantly down. These particular changes may be a result of the time difference from Australia to South Africa, which means that the live matches are during the day – not at peak times of loadshedding – while many of the repeats and highlights would have taken place in the evenings, when loadshedding is rife. The Australian Open data also showed a 50% decrease in streaming viewership on Connected TVs, but a 21% increase in DStv App streaming on mobile devices. I feel that it is fair to assume that this is a loadshedding effect. The graph below shows the viewership of various broadcast types during last year’s and this year’s Australian Open.
The varying points around viewership of the Premier League, DStv Premiership and Australian Open reaffirm the facts that viewership habits and trends are different, that viewership is down in some cases, but that it is not all bad and, in some cases, viewership has still gone up. Also, since loadshedding stages are generally lower on the weekend, there are still noticeable viewership peaks for big sports over the weekend. Regardless – if your brand is thinking about sponsorships in sport, it will need to be strategically ready to adapt to the current trends, but it will clearly still reap substantial rewards. However, I must also mention that it is still early days when it comes to viewership measurement in loadshedding days, so there is not enough data available to be completely confident about its effects on viewership. Since the rolling blackouts appear to be here to stay, for the foreseeable future at least, we will carefully be tracking its effects over time.
Now, onto a key question: Has an increase in streaming on the DStv app somewhat made up for the decrease in linear TV viewership due to loadshedding?
Well, app viewership is certainly growing. We are seeing growth in app impressions over time for various sports, in post-campaign reports that we receive from DMS for our clients, and DMS has also confirmed that app viewership is certainly trending significantly upwards – across mobile, web and connected TVs. However, utilising the app during loadshedding requires a few things: A device to stream on, a stable internet connection, good battery life (or backup power) and a subscription which allows for streaming. This means that streaming is limited to the small percentage of financially well-off individuals or families in the country, meaning that it cannot make up for the decrease in regular linear TV viewership during loadshedding. However, it certainly helps.
On that note, DStv knows that it needs to provide solutions to make advertisers more comfortable with their broadcast media spends, ensuring that brands are receiving adequate value despite loadshedding’s effects on viewership. In this case, DStv is the key ‘pointsman’ to which I referred earlier on, and we are carefully watching over the job that they are doing. A key recommendation from DMS is to extend the length of campaigns. Because of the way the loadshedding schedule works, if a brand has a spot at the same time for a few days in a row, the brand may never reach a certain viewer because that viewer may have loadshedding at that same time for all those days. However, in another week, that person will probably be switched off at a different time. Therefore, it is worth distributing spots over a longer period of time in order to maximise reach. DMS showed, as an example with a TV budget of R220k, that they could increase the ARs (ratings, ie. a measure of views achieved) by a considerable 32%, by extending a campaign to 5 weeks instead of 2 weeks, redistributing spots, and utilising some added value spots.
In the case of sports broadcast packages, however, the length of the campaign is generally defined by the duration of the tournament that is being sponsored so the idea of extending campaigns will often be irrelevant. In the case of tournaments or events that are only a few days, impressions are likely to be down compared to what they would be without loadshedding. But in the case of longer competitions, particularly ones such as the Premier League, the season is long enough that unique reach of audiences shouldn’t suffer – the reach should still accumulate over time. Frequency of reaching viewers may be lower, though, leading to lower impressions. Therefore, it is fair to expect to receive some added value from the rightsholder (DStv in these examples), or it would be wise to consider also taking up the option of digital and VOD package offerings or other ways of increasing the effectiveness of taking a broadcast sponsorship.
Regardless of how a brand structures its media deals – it is important now, more than ever, to ensure the material that the brand is using on these packages has a clear purpose and strongly drives the brand’s objectives.
This will ensure stronger effectiveness of campaigns, even if views for the brand are lower. The key objectives of the campaign must be the starting point, and the chosen package as well as the material used must be intentionally and unequivocally linked to those objectives.
To conclude, loadshedding clearly has some negative effects on TV viewership and presents a new challenge both to brands and rightsholders. But, it has been shown here that viewership is still very strong overall, and that the opportunity to create brand awareness and achieve other objectives through broadcast sponsorships remains a highly attractive one. With our strong focus on data and measurement, we will continue to watch this space carefully. For now – we hope to see fewer pointsmen and more green lights!