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The Piers Morgan effect: the role of controversy and brand safety in the world of TV

Just over a month ago, media outlets all over the UK shared the breaking news: Piers Morgan had resigned as a host of ITV’s Good Morning Britain, following his highly controversial comments about Meghan Markle just the night before. After years of being part of the driving force for attracting the morning show’s viewers, ITV were faced with huge uncertainty of the impact of Morgan’s resignation.

There have since been discussions in the media industry questioning that in a world where brand safety beats controversial statements (that have the potential to impact their reputation), has this really been a loss for ITV and advertisers even more so?

By letting Piers Morgan go, ITV could benefit in their attempt to promote a healthy brand image, which has been even more prevalent in the advertising world during the post-COVID era. And now, even a few weeks after the news spread, has there been any signs of a detrimental impact on the ratings and viewing trends?

Piers Morgan’s comments generated 41,000 complaints to Ofcom – one of the highest number of complaints in Ofcom’s history. Some of the industry specialists reacted to the news soon after, contemplating whether ITV could afford to lose Morgan and the ratings his controversy attracts. So far things are looking rather good for ITV, as there has been no sight of decline in viewing figures since Piers Morgan’s departure.

Looking at the viewing figures over the past 3 consolidated weeks, the average ratings have seen a 5% increase overall when compared to February data. Slightly surprisingly, the older viewers (55+) have shown the biggest uplift in ratings (6% vs. 4% across the 16-55 adults). What is even more encouraging, is that upscale ABC1 viewers have seen a 10% uplift across the same period, while C2DE viewing has been maintained at a similar level month-on-month.

All Response Media viewpoint

Piers Morgan had been a significant factor in driving GMB’s ratings since he joined the programme in 2015. However, while he had a significant role, it is also important to caveat that the viewing figures over the past year have been influenced by other factors too. The higher ITV Breakfast ratings over the past year correlate with the national UK lockdowns and people working from home, which has certainly played a role. It’ll be interesting to see how the viewing figures hold up once the restrictions are eased, and life returns to some form of normality.

The viewing data will therefore need to be monitored long-term to gain a more robust view of the impact the Piers Morgan leaving has had on the TV viewing figures. The initial trends have been encouraging for ITV still. Not only ITV Breakfast ratings have been maintained based on the early data, but the shift in audience data also implies that brands will be able to reach more upmarket viewers. As mentioned, these trends might however further chance once lockdown restrictions are being lifted and people return to the offices.

Nevertheless, this is positive news for the brands that have already seen strong results delivered by ITV Breakfast, as well is also a good opportunity for advertisers that chose to stay away from Piers Morgan and the controversy.

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