Prime Time vs Non-Prime Time: TV Ad Efficiency Guide

Jul 4, 2024 / Uncategorised / Teranga Marketing

The words Prime Time have long been used to describe the hours with the largest TV audience available. The most popular shows usually air at times when families are together watching TV. Consequently, these are also the times ads attract the highest viewership.

But what exactly are prime times in the UK, why is it important to consider them when creating a TV advertising campaign, and what companies should know when opting to air ads during this period?

Television remains a powerful medium for advertisers, offering unparalleled reach. However, to ensure your ad reaches the audience you need, it is important to understand the distinction between prime time and non-prime time.

In this article, we will discuss everything you need to know to optimise your campaign and reach the audience that better suits your product or service.

Prime Time and Non-Prime Time in the UK

When choosing the best way to air adverts, companies have a lot to consider, from TV clearance to ad space. However, one of the key considerations when deciding the best time to showcase a campaign is understanding the concept of “prime time”.

“Prime Time” refers to the period during which television viewership is at its highest. This is typically the time when most people are at home and are likely to be watching TV, making it the most desirable and expensive slot for advertisers. Conversely, “Non-Prime Time” refers to periods with lower viewership and, therefore, less expensive advertising rates.

Prime Time in the UK generally spans from around 6:00 PM to 10:30 PM. However, the most coveted sub-slot within this period is usually from 8:00 PM to 10:00 PM. This time frame captures a wide audience, including families, working professionals, and a mix of demographics that advertisers aim to reach.

It is also for this reason that channels choose to air popular shows during these times, including reality shows, major sports events, news bulletins, and other high-profile content.

Non-Prime Time, on the other hand, covers the hours outside the Prime Time window, including early morning (before 6:00 AM), daytime (from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM), and late night (after 10:30 PM).

The audience during these periods is typically smaller and more segmented. For example, daytime viewers might include retirees, stay-at-home parents, or shift workers. For this reason, the content aired during this time can include morning shows, reruns, children’s programming, niche interest shows, and late-night talk shows.

One of the main reasons why advertisers might look at non-prime time slots to air an ad is that rates are lower due to the smaller and more specific audience segments. This can be a cost-effective option for advertisers targeting specific demographics. It can also be a great way to target groups that are more frequent watchers of this time slot.

Strategic Use of Prime and Non-Prime Time for TV Advertisers

Advertisers aiming for maximum exposure and broad reach often focus their budget on Prime Time slots. This is ideal for brand awareness campaigns, major product launches, and high-stakes advertising.

However, advertisers with more limited budgets or those targeting specific demographics may prefer Non-Prime Time slots. This can also be useful for frequency building in ad campaigns, ensuring the audience sees the advertisement multiple times without incurring high costs.

Understanding the distinctions between Prime and Non-Prime Time helps advertisers plan and allocate their budgets effectively to maximise their return on investment (ROI) based on their campaign goals and target audiences.

You can learn more about TV time slots in the UK in this article.

Why is it Important to Consider Prime and Non-Prime Time When Airing an Ad?

Considering prime and non-prime time when choosing ad placement is crucial for several reasons:

Target Audience Reach

Advertising during Prime Time allows businesses to reach a larger and more diverse audience. This is particularly important for products or services that have a broad appeal and are intended for a wide demographic.

Non-prime time slots may cater to more specific or niche audiences. For example, daytime slots might be more effective for targeting stay-at-home parents, retirees, or shift workers.

Cost Efficiency

Ad slots during Prime Time are significantly more expensive due to high demand and large viewership. While this can lead to high exposure, it requires a larger budget.

Non-Prime Time slots are generally less expensive, offering a cost-effective option for advertisers with smaller budgets. This allows businesses to increase the frequency of their ads without a prohibitive cost.

Ad Campaign Objectives

For campaigns focused on building brand awareness and reaching as many people as possible, Prime Time is ideal. The high viewership ensures that the ad is seen by a large number of potential customers.

If the goal is to reach a specific demographic or to focus on a particular niche, Non-Prime Time might be more suitable. For instance, an ad for a children’s toy might be more effective during morning or afternoon slots when children are more likely to be watching TV.

Competitive Positioning

Placing ads during Prime Time can help a brand stand out in a competitive market. High-profile ad slots during popular shows can enhance a brand’s image and create a perception of credibility and importance.

Non-trime time slots can still offer strategic advantages, especially if competitors are heavily investing in Prime Time. Advertisers can achieve high frequency and saturation in less crowded slots, potentially capturing audience attention without direct competition.

Viewer Engagement

Viewers during Prime Time are typically more engaged and attentive as they are watching their favourite shows or major events. This can lead to higher ad recall and better engagement metrics.

Engagement during non-prime time can vary, but targeted and repeated exposure during this period can still be very effective, particularly for reinforcement and reminder campaigns.

Flexibility and Scheduling

Limited availability of slots due to high demand means less flexibility in scheduling. Advertisers need to plan and book well in advance if their strategy is aimed at prime time TV.

On the other hand, non-prime time offers more flexibility with scheduling and can be used to fill in gaps in the campaign, ensuring continuous presence on TV.

Effectiveness of Messaging

Ads during prime time need to be impactful and memorable to justify the higher cost. Creative quality and relevance to the broad audience are crucial.

Ads outside of prime time hours can be more varied and less costly, allowing for experimentation with different messages and formats to see what resonates best with the audience.

Difference in Costs Between Prime and Non-Prime Time

As discussed, the cost differences between advertising during prime and non-prime time are significant due to the disparity in viewership and demand for these slots.

The prime time period sees the highest concentration of viewers, which drives up demand for ad slots. A larger audience means greater potential exposure for advertisers, leading to higher costs. For instance, advertising during a popular evening show can cost several times more than during a mid-day show.

With fewer viewers, the demand for ad slots in other periods is lower, resulting in significantly reduced costs. This is an attractive option for advertisers targeting specific or niche audiences who are likely to be watching during these times.

Prime-time slots are typically sold at premium rates. The cost is often determined by the audience size, the popularity of the show, and the time of year (e.g., costs might be higher during major events or holiday seasons). On the other hand, slots at other times might be sold at a flat rate or discounted rates during bulk purchases.

When it comes to key TV advertising success metrics, CPM, or Cost Per Thousand Impressions, is an important factor to consider. The CPM is higher during prime time due to the larger audience base.

Rules of Time Slots on UK Television

In the UK, the rules for prime time and non-prime time ads are governed by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the Office of Communications (Ofcom). These organisations ensure that advertising is conducted in a fair, legal, and responsible manner.

Although there are rules that cover TV advertising in general, such as the BCAP Code and scheduling restrictions, some rules are specific to prime and non-prime time slots.

Prime Time Rules

For prime time slots, here are the things advertisers should pay attention to when developing their campaigns:

Content Sensitivity

Ads during Prime Time are likely to be seen by a family audience, so content must be appropriate for all ages. Restrictions on the portrayal of violence, sexual content, and explicit language are more stringent during these hours.

Alcohol Advertising

Ads for alcoholic beverages are subject to strict content guidelines and are generally allowed, but must not appeal to minors or promote irresponsible drinking.

Food and Drink Advertising

HFSS (high fat, sugar, and salt) foods are subject to scheduling restrictions to limit their exposure to children. These ads are often restricted from airing in or around programs popular with children.

During Prime Time, if a significant portion of the audience is expected to be under 16, HFSS ads are prohibited.

Gambling Advertising

Gambling ads are allowed, but they must not appeal to or target minors. They cannot air during programs specifically aimed at children or young audiences.

A 9:00 PM watershed applies, meaning gambling ads can generally only air after this time, except during live sports broadcasts.

Health and Beauty Products

Claims must be substantiated, and ads must not exploit viewers’ insecurities.

Non-Prime Time Rules

During non-prime time, the rules are different:

Children’s Programming

Stricter rules apply during times when children are likely to be watching, such as early mornings and afternoons. This includes a ban on ads for products that might cause harm to children or that encourage poor nutritional habits.

HFSS food ads are banned during children’s programs or when a significant portion of the audience is under 16.

Adult Content

Ads with more mature themes (e.g., gambling and certain types of alcohol ads) can be shown, particularly late at night when children are less likely to be viewing.

Greater latitude is allowed in terms of content after the 9:00 PM watershed.

Infomercials and Longer Ads

These are more commonly scheduled during non-prime time, especially late at night, when viewer engagement with longer format advertising might be higher.

Direct Response and Teleshopping

These formats are more prevalent during non-prime time slots and must comply with specific rules regarding claims, pricing, and clarity to ensure they are not misleading.

Final Thoughts

The distinction between prime and non-prime time slots plays a crucial role in the strategy of TV campaigns. As we’ve seen in this article, the two periods offer different possibilities to advertisers, with prime time slots being great when the goal is a broader reach and non-prime time slots offering a more segmented audience and lower costs.

By strategically leveraging both prime and non-prime time slots, advertisers can balance reach and frequency, tailoring their messages to the right audiences at the right times. Understanding and adhering to the regulatory guidelines ensures that ads are not only effective but also ethical and compliant.

A well-planned approach to TV ad scheduling, rooted in a deep understanding of audience behaviour and regulatory frameworks, can significantly enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of advertising efforts.

Get in touch and discover how you can make your ads and campaign strategy more effective!