Another Mile-Marker Ready To Be Passed: Digital's Impending Ad-Sell Dominance

I celebrated the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web on Tuesday trying to get my allegedly smartphone to allow me to send emails or to receive any. Also, texts.

I fixed it, I thought, but then, well, no. That ruined the party.

Another big date coming up: According to eMarketer, in 2018 digital ad sales will surpass TV, a prediction that can’t surprise anybody except perhaps, that it’s not happening sooner.   

Anyway, happy belated birthday to the three-W’ed wonder, which has changed your lives and mine, and made some people rich and some people miserable. The World Wide Web touched us all and changed us in ways we could never have imagined back in 1989, when we almost always shopped in stores and you had to search. It's when you could have a decent argument in the lunchroom about who starred in “Rebecca” that wasn’t settled in 20 seconds by Google. (Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine, for those of you playing at home.)

In 1989, the advertising world was still consumed by battles between broadcast networks and cable networks. It was really kind of personal. The better ideological battle now is television vs. digital, and there doesn’t  seem to be much argument there, either. Advertisers are making digital part of the mix, just the way big broadcast television sponsors began cutting cable into the equation.

“Perhaps the clearest sign that digital and TV ad spending are not significantly cannibalizing each other is attitudinal: More and more marketers see the different channels as supplementing each other for a well-rounded campaign,” says eMarketer. 

I can’t say I’m totally happy about this adult-like behavior. Journalistically, I could stand a lot more cheap, indignant shots from online purveyors arguing that buying a digital ad is well, just smarter, measurable…scientific even. 

But eMarketer quotes surveys that show 68% of advertisers and 69% of ad agencies are planning video ad campaigns across platforms. Sanity rules.

By 2018, TV will still take 36.1% of the ad dollars, but that’s down from 38.1% in 2014. Digital will take 36.4% in 2018, compared to 27.9% in 2014, per eMarketer. That gives digital a .3 advantage, and not to doubt the figures, that sounds like kind of a dead heat to me rather than a clear cut victory. I don’t think there will be an official-official count, so you can probably fudge a point or two or three.

Obviously, the trend is going away from TV and to digital, though.  It could be that between now and then, over-the-top viewing could really distort the numbers. Indeed, in this dreary, cooperative world, everybody probably would be happy if viewers, and then advertisers, had real difficulty distinguishing one from the other.

That could happen, really quickly, too.  If there is one thing the Internet and World Wide Web taught the whole wide world, it was how fast things can change in that space. Consider how much advertising passes through YouTube alone. In 2013, also according to eMarketer, it may have attracted $5.6 billion—and YouTube won’t turn nine years old until May 19. That money came from somewhere.

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