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British streamers willing to tolerate ads for free TV, study shows

As in other areas, British streamers are becoming increasingly weary of costs associated with premium services.

As in other areas, British streamers are becoming increasingly weary of costs associated with premium services.

A television set with the Pluto TV streaming app. (Courtesy image)
Pluto TV, owned by Paramount Global, is a free, ad-supported streaming service available in the United Kingdom. (Courtesy image)

The majority of British streamers are willing to tolerate advertisements if it means getting access to free or low-cost television content, according to the findings of a new study released this month.

The study, commissioned by The Trade Desk, shows 63 percent of British adults are open to the idea of watching TV shows and movies with advertisements via streaming if it means they don’t have to pay anything to watch that content or use the platform where it is distributed.

Around 83 percent of British adults surveyed affirm they watch at least two hours of TV or movies through a streaming platform already, an increase from 72 percent who were surveyed by The Trade Desk last year.

The study suggests British television viewers, who have long been accustom to watching linear content provided by the publicly-funded BBC and public service broadcasters ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, are increasingly comfortable with streaming alternatives as more of them become available in the United Kingdom.

Cornerstone streaming services like Netflix and Prime Video have been available in the United Kingdom for a while, as have online-based “catch up” services like BBC iPlayer and ITVx.  But free streaming services like Paramount Global’s Pluto TV are relatively new to British streamers, who have only had access to those services and their associated apps for a few years now.

The concept of “free” is also somewhat new to British TV fans, who have for decades paid a special television tax, called a license, if they watch programming over broadcast channels. The same tax applies if they watch broadcast TV over the Internet, but not if they stick solely to streaming services like Netflix or Prime Video, as long as those services don’t also provide access to streaming simulcasts of broadcast TV.

Around 60 percent of British adults surveyed acknowledge subscribing to at least three premium streaming services, a number that has also gone up over time. It wasn’t clear how many of those adults would be willing to drop one or more subscription for a totally-free, ad-supported offering. The United Kingdom has fewer free, ad-supported TV platforms compared to other territories like Germany, Canada or the United States.

That said, there was some indication that costs were weighing on whether or not British streamers keep the services they’re currently paying for, with some at least expressing an interest in paying less for a service in exchange for sitting through a few ads. Those ad-lite tiers have increased in popularity in the United States and Canada, and the study shows they might be popular in the United Kingdom as well, with 41 percent of British streamers saying they’d be willing to switch to a cheaper subscription plan that is supported by ads.

“Content and choice are driving the demand for streaming services, but the cost associated with these is making people rethink how many platforms they subscribe to,” Patrick Morrell, the senior director of inventory and partnerships in Europe, the Middle East and Africa for The Trade Desk, said in a statement. “The appetite for advertising shows that consumers are happy to view ads in order to continue having access to high quality TV content. Advertisers now find themselves presented with an opportunity to engage new audiences on connected TV and across devices.”

Morrell cautioned that the survey shouldn’t suggest a sudden feeding frenzy from marketers to get their messages in front of British streamers. Instead, they should take a more-measured approach by “leverage data-driven media buying, which offers more relevant ads for viewers.”

“Only then can brands create meaningful connections with their audiences and ensure they are reaching the hearts and minds of consumers,” Morrell stated.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).