North and South of the border….So close.. yet so far….

September 20, 2011

Often when entertaining foreigners, a topic that frequently comes up in conversation is the difference between Northern Ireland and Southern.  I tend to dish out the obvious and a very simplified answer, we have different legal systems, different road systems, different tax systems, different currency, we are a different size and our accents are quite distinctive.  To get into the cultural side of things can delve too deep and is best left vague- I’ve always been brought up to avoid dinner conversations about politics and religion. However, if we think about it from a media perspective it tends to be the cultural side of things that has influenced the world of media consumption and it is interesting to look at the differences between us and our neighbours over the border.


I was recently planning a radio campaign in Northern Ireland, whereby I had to remind myself to up weight the number of spots in comparison to those I’d planned for the south, why? Well, it’s pretty simple, despite being on the same island, we act very differently in terms of our media consumption, and over the border they don’t value radio as the trusted companions that they listen to at breakfast, on their way to work, in work and on the way home.  Whilst I’m not saying that they are not listening, they are simply not listening as much as us southerners, hence we have to work a little bit harder to get our advertising message across and increase the frequency of our spots.  Whilst radio is embedded into the everyday life of ROI, it is not true to say that NI follows the same pattern as the light UK listening trends.  The most recent RAJAR report shows that the average Downtown listeners is tuning into 1.9 hours a day and over on U105, an average 2.4 hours a day, so roughly half of the ROI average. The absence of the ability to broadcast on licensed funded stations is an obvious difference, however interestingly enough, like ROI the power of local should not be underestimated, the local stations performing better than the UK nationals.

From the outside TV consumption in NI seems to be quite similar to ROI, with the satellite/cable channels dominating viewership. However, a recent OFCOM report suggests that our consumption may differ when it comes to content. Adults in Northern Ireland with a TV are more likely to have concerns about television consumption. This difference is due to adults in Northern Ireland being more likely to have concerns that relate to offensive content, such as bad language, violence or nudity (34% compared with their UK counterparts 22%).  Whilst we are only over the “border”, it is fascinating to comprehend how distanced we actually are from the troubles and how this distance can thus create an emotional detachment from watching aggressive content.

If we have a look at OOH we know that digital is playing a more important role in the media industry as a whole and in outdoor it is the fastest growing channel. Interactive digital technologies continue to drive consumer behaviour and time spent on the go. The rise in Smartphone usage and mobile technology makes location and interaction crucial elements of any communications strategy. In the North, whilst some may argue that their troubled history means that a plethora of outdoor “space” has been created- this isn’t matched by a whole lot of innovation, outdoor has stayed quite conventional, whilst ROI is most certainly behind the UK in our digital offerings, NI is lagging even further behind. However, it won’t be long before the market demands that NI provide similar digital opportunities.  One must wonder what cultural influence has reduced their appetite to gorge on everything digital.

It is no secret that press highlights the biggest distinction between the two markets with press in NI deep rooted in religious and political ties.  In Northern Ireland, the main newspapers are The Irish News, seen as pro-Social Democratic and Labour Party, and the Unionist-leaning Belfast Newsletter. The Belfast Telegraph is the main evening newspaper in Northern Ireland.  However, in terms of consumption, the market is mirroring that of ROI, the effects of the closure of the News of the World is yet to be seen and with a huge migration of consumption moving online the market seems to be haemorrhaging more conspicuously than ROI. Key titles such as the Belfast Telegraph have lost over 40% of its revenue in the last year.

So, whilst we are so close, we are at times so far, our cultural ties are obvious but it is our cultural differences that have moulded a distinctively different media landscape North of the border, a landscape that as a media planner needs to be understood to plan and execute effective media campaigns.



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