Stéphane Coruble, CEO of RTL AdConnect, reflects on how broadcasters and advertisers are adopting a new approach to retain relevancy during the COVID-19 lockdown.

The lockdown has shown that, far from being redundant, traditional media – and especially television – plays an essential role in reassuring people in times of crisis, and keeping them informed, educated and entertained.

Everywhere in Europe, we’ve seen an increase in daily TV consumption, be it live or on catch-up and BVOD platforms. There has been a 38% increase in daily TV watching in France and a 42% rise in Italy and Austria from March 18 to April 14 on the same week last year. Broadcaster video-on-demand (BVOD) services have also seen massive spikes.

TV is special because its core values – education, information, and entertainment – speak to people in times of crisis. It allows people to watch content in a caring, family, environment and recreates social links within the household – something everyone needs right now.

TV personalities are important figures in people’s lives and can bring comfort in troubled times. Broadcasters around Europe are enabling that continued audience connection with new content, production methods and formats.

French TV host Cyril Lignac is now presenting a daily cookery show Tous en Cuisine from his own home, encouraging audiences to cook live with him. In Belgium, a new TV format called Belges à Domicile, on RTL-TVI, helps people to live the lockdown experience more positively, with presenters offering informative and humorous content from home.

In the UK, as part of its mental health campaign, ITV has launched ‘Britain Get Talking’ using ITV’s scale to encourage viewers to reach out to elderly and vulnerable people. ITV is also launching a new four-part drama about life in lockdown, with Oscar-nominated writer Jeff Pope depicting family life after weeks of isolation, featuring actors such as Sheridan Smith and David Threlfall.

Emulating Lady Gaga’s successful One World concert, Rai coordinated an evening of Italian entertainment, including a virtual ballet, with artists performing from their houses to raise funds for Civil Protection, the Italian national body supporting the country’s responses to coronavirus.

In Germany, endurance athlete Joey Kelly is hosting a live-stream of a 24-hour sports challenge from his home, broadcast on RTL and TV Now.

Meanwhile, along with a talent show called Made in Karantén (Made in Quarantine) featuring a panel of celebrities judging homemade videos sent by viewers, RTL Hungary is launching a new reality show with advice and tips for viewers while self-isolating, and a sitcom, called Segítség! Itthon vagyok! (Help! I’m at home!).

Advertisers have a major role to play

Along with broadcasters, advertisers have a big role to play and consumers are actively looking for their demonstrations of support.

There are countless examples all over the world of brands stepping up. Vodafone in Germany is helping out with working from home by doubling data limits for three months, while in France and the UK brands such as Brewdog are using brewing facilities to help tackle the shortage of hand sanitiser.

In Italy, pasta brand Barilla launched a campaign to help people cooking alone, and Netflix has taken a fun approach to encouraging people to stay home by running billboards that show spoilers to some of its hit shows.

As well as grand gestures, brands are making changes to their operations to help ease the strain, such as increasing the returns period for online shoppers, ensuring gift vouchers don’t go out of date and providing discounts for people who have no choice but to risk their health by continuing to work.

We must honour the public’s faith in us

You don’t have to be building ventilators to be doing good. Plenty of brands are making an impact by publicly thanking the staff who are keeping things going, and this will be remembered long after the crisis has passed.

Talking in a reassuring tone and offering a positive perspective is an effective strategy. There’s a shift to ads that provide emotional support and messaging that highlights that we’re all in this together. Vodafone in Italy has taken this approach with its ‘ReadyTogether’ activity, while Nike has run ads in markets including Germany that seem to be the opposite of its ‘Just do it’ positioning, urging people instead to “play inside, play for the world”.

While all communications must be responsible and measured, television programming and advertising has an important role to play by continuing to talk to audiences and tell their stories. People are expecting that from us and it will bring them comfort.

This industry is in a privileged position and we need to reward people’s faith in us.