Timing Is Everything
Choosing the time of day to advertise is a crucial decision dependent on two primary factors, cost and demographic. Prices TV stations offer to place a 30-second commercial vary dramatically throughout the day. Businesses can expect to pay anywhere from at little as a fiver for off-peak advertising on a specialised, niche interest cable channel up to a whopping £35000 for an ad slot at peak time on an ex-terrestrial station, such as ITV and Channel 4. Smaller businesses must consider the times they want to air an advertisement carefully if they don’t want to spend all their cash on creating an ad that they can only afford to show once.
The other central question businesses have to ask when considering when to advertise is ‘at what times will our target audience be watching the tv?’. In general, different demographics tune into the TV at different times. It is not tricky to estimate when those times are if marketers understand their customer base; for example, children watch cartoons in the morning, and the elderly enjoy their retirement by watching a lot of daytime tv. By balancing the rates offered for each daypart with the target audience likely watching at that time, advertisers can determine when the best time to advertise on TV is.
Networks typically divide their programming schedule into four main day segments, called dayparts. These consist of breakfast, daytime, peak time, and nighttime or late night. The advertising model they offer typically places commercials onto an ad roll, which means that an advertisement can air at any time during these time segments. It is possible to air an advert alongside specific shows, but this can incur a significant price rise for popular shows. ITV’s standard prime-time rate of £35000 for a 30-second commercial almost doubles to about £68000 to run an ad alongside shows with enormous mass appeal like ‘I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here’. Below is a breakdown of the costs, specific audiences and advantages each time of the day offers to help marketers make an informed decision.
In the morning, breakfast programming consists of news or infotainment programmes broadcast live on air, typically between 5 to 10 am. These programmes are usually targeted toward people getting ready for work and school, as well as parents and stay-at-home workers.
Breakfast TV is aimed at appealing to a broad demographic. Usually, the first half of the morning programming focuses on hard news and feature segments chosen to appeal to the nation’s workforce before their daily commute. Various news stories and interviews are often featured, as well as coverage of significant overnight or previous day events, news about politics, business and sporting headlines, weather forecasts, and traffic updates. Some stations, like Channel 5, exclusively show cartoons for young children at this time.
Later on in the morning, breakfast TV programming leans toward talk shows that focus on human interest, lifestyle, and entertainment. Talk shows such as ‘Lorraine’ target a predominantly female demographic that consists of stay-at-home mothers, housewives and those who work from home.
Price rates for advertising on breakfast TV typically fall into the cheapest price range on the most popular ex-terrestrial television stations. When buying a 30-second slot during ITV1’s morning schedule, businesses can expect to pay between £800 – £2500, according to tvadvertising.co.uk. To compare, Channel 4 charges a similar, slightly cheaper rate of around £500 to £1800.
Cable TV stations at breakfast time typically show re-runs of the previous day’s entertainment to an audience with specific, niche interests. Due to significantly reduced audience figures, advertising on even the most popular cable channels comes at a greatly reduced price. The price of a 30-second advert on Sky One estimates at just £70 – £190, and advertising on Discovery can cost as little as £10 – £30.
The daytime television block is the period during the weekday mornings and afternoons when television programs are broadcast. Daytime programming typically airs between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm.
Daytime programming during the working week has traditionally been dominated by soap operas, cooking shows, talk shows, and game shows. By contrast, daytime programming tends to be more varied on the weekend and leans towards sports programming.
For the most part, daytime television programs are targeted at women aged between 18–49, as the majority of daytime viewers are housewives. Thus, daytime television programs typically feature female hosts or personalities popular with women and focus on women’s issues, including health, fashion, lifestyle, current events, and gossip. Most of the remaining audience consists of the over 55s and university students who typically like to tune into gameshows such as Tenable and Countdown.
As a general rule of thumb, cable channels usually re-run prime-time programming in the daytime. Other cable networks air re-runs of popular series from yesteryear in marathon blocks; for example, Comedy Central is often likely to show multiple episodes of Friends in a row.
A sports-oriented network’s daytime schedule typically includes studio shows with news, analysis, discussion of sports-related topics, and re-runs of recent fixtures or original programming. In the daytime, broadcasting live sporting events as they happen.
Children’s television networks usually air preschool programming for young viewers between 9 am, and 3 pm before school-age children return home. Some stations may broadcast instructional programming and library content to be recorded by teachers and shown in class.
Advertising on an ex-terrestrial broadcast channel, like ITV, during the day will cost between £800 -£4600, depending on which network you choose. For example, advertising on a popular cable channel, such as Sky Showcase, will cost between £180 – £380. A less popular niche cable channel, like National Geographic, can cost as low as £2 – £20 to advertise on at this time.
Peak Time TV
The prime time or peak time refers to the block of evening television programming that airs from 5 pm to 11 pm. This daypart is when most people have free time to tune into the TV after work, and the major TV networks usually broadcast their most popular shows. Most of the audience consists of adults watching tv with their families, and weekday evenings are generally the most popular. Most Brits are at work during the day, asleep at night, or participating in weekend social activities.
Peak time hours draw the largest television audience figures, attracting a staggering 45% of the total UK population to sit down in front of the box. That’s about 30 million viewers nationwide! Any other popular media platform cannot match those numbers.
Knowing that peak time attracts a vast audience, networks choose this time to air their newest shows with enormous budgets. Ex-terrestrial channels use this time to broadcast popular dramas such as ‘Downton Abbey’, iconic soaps such as ‘Coronation Street’, comedy panel shows such as ‘8 out of 10 Cats’, network premiers of films and the late-night news to appeal to the broadest possible demographic. New seasons of hit shows attract an even larger audience than usual peak time figures, allowing advertisers to take advantage of this opportunity. In 2021, the ‘Great British Bake Off launch episode amassed 9.6 million viewers on Channel 4.
TV networks earn most of their advertising revenue from prime time because established brands spend, on average, nearly 40 per cent of their ad budgets at this time. TV rating research panels such as BARB predominantly focus their studies and take sample data around this time, and this research allows advertisers to see how many people may have seen their ads from week to week. Each show is watched by a different demographic, so, with help, advertisers can reach out to the right audiences. Interestingly, television advertising expenditures in the UK have typically been highest during prime-time drama shows.
In the US, a study conducted by the Nielsen rating agency showed that over 20 per cent of prime time viewers come from households with an annual income of $100,000, which has not changed since 2010. This statistic is useful for advertisers because this demographic has disposable income that they spend on products that they see advertised.
Between 2004 and 2012, GFK Media researched prime time TV viewing attitudes and found that viewers typically pay more attention to ads in prime time because commercials usually have higher production values and are regarded as more attractive, enjoyable and engaging. Furthermore, respondents stated that products featured in peak-time TV ads were perceived to have an implicit guarantee of quality simply from advertising at this time.
The rates networks charge for advertising at peak times differ tremendously. Peak time advertising on ITV, the UK’s most popular channel that allows broadcasting of advertisements, can cost between £10000 – £35000 just for a single 30-second commercial. A popular cable channel like Sky showcase charges £800 – £1200 whereas a specialised interest channel like Discovery can cost just £25 to £100.
Night Time TV
Night time or late night television is the last daypart segment of a TV network’s programming schedule, running from 11 pm to 6 am. This time is synonymous with reality tv, stand-up comedy, documentaries and teleshopping. In this time slot, Channel 4 and Channel 5 usually broadcast repeats and re-runs their daily programming schedule, sometimes in marathon blocks. ITV most commonly broadcasts its ‘Teleshopping’ show.
Late-night TV used to be the king of counter-culture but more recently has seen a decline in creative content due to the rise in popularity of the internet. Adult-themed shows such as South Park and Adult Swim have found homes online, and their audiences of young adults aged 18 – 40 have followed them. Research suggests that today’s late-night tv audience demographics primarily consist of adults in the over 40 categories and typically have some form of higher education degree.
Advertisers should beware that many networks regard this daypart as the graveyard shift and often air less popular series in blocks to ‘run down’ their contracts.
Advertising rates at night offer prices comparable to the cheapest breakfast TV offers. Channel 4 charges between £500 – £2000 for a 30-second ad slot, and to advertise on ITV at night, you can expect to pay between £3800 – £4600. Sky showcase charges rates between £35 – £75, and niche interest cable channels like Comedy Central cost around £5 – £20 to advertise.
When answering the question ‘when is the best time of day to advertise on tv,’ there can only be one winner. Advertisers regard peak time as the most likely to generate sales and the quickest method to raise brand awareness nationwide. In the UK, millions of concurrent viewers tune in daily to watch their favourite shows and relax after work. Research shows that viewers are more receptive to advertisers’ messages when in an elevated mood and more likely to pay attention to information relayed on screen. Not only this, but goods advertised during prime time are likely to be seen as high standards with guaranteed quality assurance.
However, all that being said, businesses with smaller advertising budgets can still make their advertising very effective by knowing all the ins and out’s of their customer base and what times, channels and shows they are likely to turn on their television sets. In this highly targeted way, even small businesses can make a significant impact by advertising on TV.