Fast Forward: Summertime
As I write this, I've got summer on my mind. And it's not just the sweltering heat in New York City where Media magazine is based, or the fact that the air conditioning was on the fritz in the offices of MediaPost (which publishes this magazine) during the earliest heat wave I can remember in this region.
So hot was it, in fact, that my children's schools in the Connecticut town we live in had to shut down for two days in a row. Yeah, we've traded snow days for global warming days. But it's not the weather. Nor is it the smell of charring animal flesh wafting over my neighbor's fence. No, the main thing that's got me thinking about summer is Ironman. I finally got to catch old Shellhead on the big screen, and it got me right back into one of my favorite summer pastimes: media.
Summer is the season of media. It's the season when primetime goes on hiatus, and other long dormant media options grow as rampant as my front lawn. The truth is, my media consumption patterns are changing for reasons far more fundamental than the weather, but there still is something about the warmer climes that trigger unique media behaviors. Movies are just one of them. Books are another - trading in serious hardcover reading for lighter paperback fare. Some of these shifts obviously are due to changes in the availability of media content. But some of them are simply ingrained cultural patterns. We are conditioned to consume and experience media differently - in a much more kicked-back manner - in the summer than we are during any other season of the year.
It's a reminder that culture is a big part of the way people consume media. It's also a big part of the way we buy media. And you need look no further than another big, annual rite of the season - the network upfront advertising marketplace. Surely, there still are good business reasons for buying network TV the way the ad industry does, but I would argue that spending billions of ad dollars during a few weeks in June every year is as much a cultural phenomenon as it is a way of managing practical business needs. The patterns, like those of summer blockbuster movie-going, are ingrained, and are hard to break. In fact, there used to be a knock on big agency media buyers that they wanted to get their upfront ad buys done by the Fourth of July, so they could enjoy their summer vacations. I don't think that's the case anymore - if it ever truly was. I think people buy upfront for far more practical and pragmatic business reasons. But I also think culture is a big part of that. And I believe the upfront television marketplace will never truly change until - if and when - the culture of TV advertisers and agencies also changes.
Another big culturally ingrained phenomenon I've observed over the past couple of decades happens to be the subject of one of our feature stories this month. And like summertime media habits, it also happens to be a temporal one: Thursday nights. And as Media contributor Randi Schmelzer points out, it grew out of the perfect confluence of factors that made it the Must-Need TV buy for many of the biggest advertisers and agencies. Top-rated shows, attracting some of the most desired demographics on the best night for influencing weekend consumer purchasing behavior for some of the biggest and most price elastic advertising categories: cars and movies. It makes great sense, but as Jon Swallen, a long-time Madison Avenue media guru, turned industry economist at TNS Media Intelligence, recently confided in me, it frequently makes no sense. Trolling through reams of TNS MI data, Swallen found that big movie studios were buying expensive Thursday night advertising slots to promote upcoming summer releases, some of which were weeks or months away. That behavior, Swallen told me, defied business logic. But it most likely was rooted in a cultural one. Now, old Shellhead has made the jump to the silver screen, the Hulk has been retooled into an incredible franchise and Batman is back. Hollywood sticks with what it knows - why wouldn't Madison Avenue?