Viewing behaviour is changing. What are the drivers and consequences?

March 2023

Cable cord cutting is on the rise. The change in viewing behaviour is manifesting itself clearer by the day. Cable subscriptions from Telenet have been declining for some time but even more recently, Proximus, another Belgian provider, has also taken some solid blows. If you think this is nothing new, you are only partly right. The reasons for dumping cable subscriptions are diverse: from irrelevant content to too expensive, but also the rigid linear nature of cable television plays a part in the cord cutting equation. What was once just a screen is now a “viewing ecosystem” that is fueled by the internet. We, the viewers, are part of this ecosystem. With the rise of smart devices that connect and stay connected with the push of a button, doors have opened for a more connected viewing experience that offers a shining alternative to the rigid linear TV.

What are other drivers? Self-determination

Is it possible that one of the drivers for our changing media behaviour is a sense of self-determination? We believe so. The personal freedom that viewers experience seems very profound. When people choose and decide for themselves, it gives them a sense of power as they avoid having “irrelevant messages” forced upon them. This feeling – I decide where, how, when – becomes a very decisive factor that we need to include into media strategy.

Close up of Jannes working

The re-evolution of relevance?

Relevance – in the broadest sense of the word – was and is a compelling factor to reach consumers. However, nowadays it is a key element in media consumption. Online content should match the medium and the context in which we watch (more about that later). The format, tone, language, rhythm, frequency, technology, sound and sound processing, … all has to be right and fit within our brain-time and mental power. At the same time it should help people to fulfil their emotional, functional and social desires.


Humans go through an overload of information every day. Each day we have about 35,000 thoughts, we have to endure all kinds of distractions and on top of that, we have to make an overload of choices. In other words, our brain-time as well as our willpower is limited, and that determines how we look and make decisions. For instance, we know that people are more strong-willed during the morning than in the afternoon. As a result they make different decisions. Our time and willpower are very precious. “Time stealing” from people should be avoided. We should surprise people with advertising that is relevant and value-creating, compelling and intriguing so it reaches them at the right time and within the right context.

How will the technological impact and changing viewing behaviour affect the perception and receptivity of advertising? Which influences should we be attentive to?

Aha, context! But what is “closed and open context”?

One consequence is that we can watch our favourite content anywhere. An important factor that plays a role in this and is quickly forgotten is what we call “the closed and open context”. The closed context takes place between you and your screen. It is a self-chosen moment where you pick the content in the context you are aware of. The open context takes place in the outside world where you have no control over what comes your way. It is content that catches you by surprise and that you have to go through with, willingly or not.

This “open or closed context” helps determine the “mental state” in which we look at something. In an “open context” we are intensely surrounded and distracted by factors we have no control over. This potentially allows noise to creep between your brand and your consumer. Here’s a context example: those at work are much more likely to click away a non-relevant message, i.e. not linked to the work context, than those at home who are relaxing on the sofa and are more mentally available for non-work related messages.

When you, in turn, walk around a fashion shop, it is the ideal time for the appropriate advertisement to buy a dress or shirt, preferably from a brand sold in the shop in question. You create a match between the taste and desires, the heart and ratio of your intended customers. However, it is important to keep in mind that context also affects our mood and that the influence of our mood on our perception is not to be underestimated.


Mood votes!

Context drives our mood and mood affects our perception on whether or not we have a positive attitude towards advertising. If we feel happy, because we have just partaken in fun activities, we will be more open to humorous or emotional campaigns. On the other spectrum, those who are anxious will be more receptive to ads that connect to safety. Now our mood may also be a phenomenon, closely connected to our current times. Sociologist Pr. Marc Elchardus, for example, connects people around their fears.

Besides mood, another important factor in becoming receptive to advertising is the engagement we have with a medium, its content and its context. The more engaged we are with a medium and its content, the more we tend to process and remember information. If we watch a documentary about a music group that interests us, we will be more receptive and positive to advertisements promoting concerts or albums than if we are not into their music.

Online media can create highly vivid, interactive and experiential features that benefit our advertising “memory”. Making advertising stick with the help of fun experiences and entertainment.

Target groups are important but also congruence. The more congruent the message, medium and content are with each other, the more they reinforce each other. This will increase credibility or appeal. We are more likely to pick up content in the right “context” that fits our lifestyle. A customer may fit the target demographic to buy a cooking appliance. But when you put your cooking appliance in a Sci-Fi context, it won’t be liked as much as in a cooking show.

AI. The invisible influencer?

AI is already present in our lives. However, the next-generation AI will affect the market with sniper precision. AI can react almost instantly to the context someone is watching, making it more than a replacement for those good old cookies. For instance, contextual advertising can make use of AI and deep-learning algorithms to analyse content such as text, speech, images and geolocation in real time. It accelerates the move towards stronger personalisation and increases the impact of such personalisation. When an intervention is a highly emotionally engineered message it leads to a better and more intense customer experience. AI can also aid in deciding whether to offer behavioural or contextual advertising, or both. Contextual advertising focuses on the context, the environment in which the user is browsing and the topic he/she/it is viewing. With behavioural advertising, we focus more on the user’s actions such as browsing on a webpage, clicking on a particular link to a product page, or article.

Consider for a moment that “mood factor” that drives our perception. There will be instances when AI will know your mood better than you know yourself. AI is already a busy bee at analysing our preferences, interests and needs. However, when even smarter AI learns more about open or closed contexts (such as where one looks, what one’s distractions are, if someone is moving or not, etc…) and uses that data, it can predict at what time customers will respond best to offered advertising. Crazy? Maybe, but we’re already getting close. Netflix sends “personalised content” that conforms to your “unconscious viewing behaviour”. The next step are commercials that are based on your personality and adapted to how you feel, where you watch etc. And yes; possibly your “personal AI” will be fed by information collected through “Amazon’s home robot”.

The change in media, advertising and how to reach customers is going to be more exciting than ever. Fancy a talk on media strategy and how to engineer emotions with regard to the above arguments? You know where to find us.