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If London is another country, media is another planet

The media bubble. The London bubble. We all know they exist but what can we do about them?

For those of us living in London, where we are surrounded by the buzz of almost 9 million people, it can be easy to forget the rest of the UK (all 55.5 million of them). This is even more pronounced for those of us working in media land, where we can easily become detached from the day to day experience of “normal” people.

So what do we know about Londoners? Well, on average it’s younger, has higher earners (but with lower disposable income), is more ethnically diverse and experiences the greatest level of migration. Just to emphasise this last point, immigration to the borough of Tower Hamlets was around 13,000 in 2013/14, more than immigration to Cardiff and Edinburgh in the same year combined. This all has an impact on Londoner’s attitudes, behaviour and crucially, media habits. We spend longer online both via desktop and mobile, we’re exposed to more OOH and we spend longer with freesheets such as the Metro and Evening Standard, as well as papers with more of a liberal leaning, such as the Guardian.

Figure 1. There are 83 adults per poster in London, compared to 317 adults per poster in the rest of the country.

As with most global cities, London attracts a slightly different type of person and the same can be said of the media industry. In a research study last year, ThinkBox, in collaboration with IPSOS, compared media perceptions of industry professionals (from media, creative, digital agencies and advertisers), to media perceptions of a nationally representative sample. Some of the findings, particularly those around TV consumption, are surprising. For instance, figure 2 shows that regular adults (i.e. those not working in advertising), estimate that they spend 2h 15m watching TV on a TV set per day, whilst ad people estimate that normal people watch slightly longer, 2h 41m. Not bad, but if we look at BARB data, the actual viewing figures indicate that people spend on average 3h 35m watching TV on their TV sets. Other findings showed that regular adults and ad people vastly underestimated the amount of viewing that was done live, whilst ad people in particular were guilty of overestimating the amount of time spent watching subscription VOD; 1h 21m was ad people’s estimate of regular adults with the actual figure being just 11m. Not only are people generally pretty bad at self-estimating their own media habits, but even those of us working in the advertising industry struggle too.

Figure 2. Source: TV/Ad Nation, 2016, Ipsos Connect/Thinkbox.’, adults 15+. BARB viewing Sep 2015 - Aug 2016.

Following on from this, a similar research study from the IPA used TouchPoints data to highlight some of the key differences in the day-to-day experiences between those in London’s media industry and regular people in the UK. The survey used media professionals in London, both young media planners and older senior management figures, comparing them to a nationally representative sample. A few interesting differences in media habits were highlighted, including that both London’s young media planners and media management figures spend much less time with print news brands compared to their age equivalents outside of London. It was also just four news brands that accounted for almost all of this time; the London Evening Standard, The Metro, the i and the Guardian. As you can imagine this was nowhere near reflective of readership amongst the total UK population.

As both studies indicate, media folk cannot rely on their own experiences to guide strategy for media campaigns at a national level. It’s always good to explore our hunches but the path forward is to trust industry validated sources of data, such as, BARB, Touchpoints and TGI, to inform strategy and planning, whilst remaining cautious of placing too much value in claimed behaviour data. We must always remind ourselves that our media behaviour, and our friend’s media behaviour is (almost certainly) not the average.