Looking Back, Forging Ahead

by , Dec 19, 2011, 12:39 PM
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‘Tis the season for wistful recollections about the year past and shining optimism about what the future might bring. For me it is, anyway. Looking back, it’s been another roller coaster of a year in television.  A few highlights:

  • My first TV Board post of the year, which heralded the dawn of the Smart TV era, tells you all you need to know about how far our industry has come in 2011. (But note that major chip companies have since pulled out of the market.) 
  • We’ve seen steady evolution in the industry with Nielsen’s IPO (whose stock price has been effectively flat since then) and revolution in the world at large driven by the Arab Spring.
  • S&P made one heck of a bad call and raised the issue of whether ratings companies in any industry should really drive pricing.
  • And we lost more than a few industry visionaries, but we hope their passing inspired a new generation.

Against such a dramatic backdrop, television has proven itself a reliable beacon in times of change. Advertisers searching for their bearings in a social-enabled multiplatform world have continued to rely on television as the linchpin of their media campaigns. At the same time, they’ve eagerly experimented with new technologies to improve its accountability. And viewers, even as they clutched beloved tablets and smart phones, switched on their televisions for news of developments from Tahrir Square and during Hurricane Irene.

With that, I’ll bid adieu to 2011, and venture a half-dozen predictions about what topics might be filling these pages in the coming year:

1.     More money for television. Digital ad spending will keep going up (if less dramatically than it once did), but television will remain the go-to platform for highly engaging, highly resonant brand advertising. As targeting the right networks and programs becomes more effective, television’s pull will only increase. I don’t think we’ll see a move away from digital, but dollars will drain from non-accountable media like OOH (billboards), magazines, newspapers, and radio.

2.     Top brands heading back to broadcast nets. For a long time now, CPG marketers struggling with pinched budgets have been trading down, looking for value over quality and ending up with remnant inventory. But top brands will have renewed focus on brand perception and move back to the safety of the broadcast networks. Value shopping will be less of a priority for CPG brands in the New Year, but targeting and accountability will be everything.

3.     Better, broader local ratings. Network execs have been frustrated with the confusion so consistently delivered by Nielsen’s ratings in local markets (Diaries, really?). Finally, they will move to new ways to supplement those ratings with ratings based on STB data from new-generation measurement firms. The sample sizes are bigger and the data is stable and reliable – all of which puts these products above and beyond that of the industry incumbent.

4.     Politics taking center stage.  This is my “master of the obvious” prediction, with a twist. Political ad spending always soars in election years, and 2012 is certainly going to bring a harder fought battle (and therefore more money) than most. But new to this election cycle will be political advertising delivered based on new targeting technologies. How will it affect the election’s outcome? Time will tell.  But “swing voters” will take on new meaning, as “swing purchasers” have for many brand advertisers.

5.     A new kind of upfront. Advertisers were clamoring at last year’s TV upfront for more, easier buying opportunities. Will agencies and networks be ready to deliver on their wishes? How will they do that?  Will they stay with your grandfather’s metrics and see dollars leave television?  Or will some of the more innovative players up the ante with new technologies and new data? Change may be incremental, but it’s on the way.

6.     A hint of what’s to come. MediaPost’s Wayne Friedman has wondered  whether, beyond 2013, Apple’s Siri will allow us to verbally ask our TVs to find TV shows our friends are watching. What will that mean for the ads shown alongside them? Socially relevant targeting via TV?  We’ll see.

And in the world beyond TV? Rex Ryan will turn the NFL upside down -- disruptors of the universe, unite! -- leading the Jets to win the Super Bowl. In baseball, the Cubs will take the World Series after Theo Epstein brings the Moneyball strategy over from Boston (OK, that one’s a stretch but Epstein will make it exciting). My beloved Knicks will finally break into the upper echelon and make the pros as exciting to watch as college hoops. And, on a more serious note, finally, the Israelis and Palestinians will agree to a two-state solution, and peace will break out in the Middle East. One can only hope. Happy New Year.

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