Why Conan O'Brien Can't Go Just Internet -- Yet
Conan's fans love him. When Conan resurfaces with his new show, many people will be ready to tune in, online and on television. This will present the same opportunity to advertisers that anyone with Conan's talent and audience always presents: the chance to engage an audience with your marketing message in exchange for money. However, even if Conan could get just as many people to engage with marketers through his online content, as might TRULY watch the commercials during a broadcast at the coveted 11:35 p.m. Monday to Friday time slot, he couldn't yet generate enough revenue to sustain the quality of his show. This is in spite of the fact that marketers who deliver their message to Conan's online audience could track "who is watching" with a greater level of detail of, and have greater tools with which to engage Conan's audience.
Think about this for a second. Even if Conan O'Brien could generate the same audience, with even greater levels of transparency and tools for engagement, he would generate orders of magnitude less revenue.
Why? Because there's a system in place to buy television that levels the playing field for everyone -- in television. It doesn't matter if it's a lie. Want to know why Conan can't make great content for the Internet, and why the New York Times is going to experiment with a pay wall that might be a nail in the proverbial coffin? Because these online efforts are competing with the inflated "perceived" value of their own traditional offerings, which the media industry has spent years creating. Magazines, newspapers and television broadcasters have spent so long building up a system of metrics that tell a story to marketers that helps sell advertising slots. So now, all of a sudden when they have to sell their actual distribution online (because it can be so easily measured), they can't compete with themselves.
Don't get me wrong. It's not that traditional media was cheating advertisers, because as long as all the various media outlets were measured on the same fuzzy metrics, it was all relative. Everyone was selling based on the same story. But now there is an issue because people want to consume content on the Internet, and a $1000 cost per thousand (CPM) rate sounds insane to media institutions, even though $1000 CPM might have been what they were getting all along. It's a big problem for marketers, newspapers and Conan O'Brien.
So while I agree with Nick Bilton's piece in the New York Times calling for Conan to focus on Internet distribution, there are some massive elephants in the media room we need to take a very close look at to help Mr. O'Brien, Hulu and the New York Times out first. Bilton best points out just how ludicrous the current system for advertising that we are stuck in is , when he writes, "I'm sure nothing could matter more on spreadsheets and in traditional advertising meetings. But with the 18- to 34-year old crowd, who have shown undaunted support for Mr. O'Brien, a time slot is as relevant as which brand of frying pan your favorite restaurants uses to cook your meal..."
Think we'll get it figured out in time to save quality content? Do you think Conan O'Brien should focus on online distribution? Continue the conversation with me below on the comments board, or on Twitter at www.twitter.com/JoeMarchese.