Is Prime Time a Dying Concept?

There was a time when you could run a 30-second prime-time television spot and be virtually guaranteed to reach the coveted 18- to 49-year-old audience any weekday of the year in droves. These days, the notion of daypart targeting as it relates to broadcast television is not quite so cut and dried. Consumers are rapidly embracing the flexibility and ubiquity of digital media. They are going online to consume programming on their own terms.

I can't say that I'm any different than the trend. My television viewing patterns are far from what would be considered the norm. I watch late-night TV on Saturday afternoons and catch up on prime-time shows at midnight. I watch the news all day long, usually as it's unfolding. TV consumption is becoming so unstructured.

This theme is putting a lot of pressure on planners to think long and hard about how the Web is affecting television viewing and the impact these pattern shifts will have on future planning. It's a topic of high importance, considering that television still accounts for the majority ad spend among top consumer brands.



So where's the disconnect? If consumers are moving their consumption to digital platforms, shouldn't we as advertisers be following them there? Isn't it just that simple?

It made a lot of sense to advertise on television, because that's where the bulk of consumers could be found. They were a captive audience well positioned to consume your product messaging in the lulls between their favorite prime-time shows. There were no on-demand options, so consumers had no choice but to adapt their schedules to the ones already decided for them by networks.

The sharp reality is that those consumers are now increasingly splitting their time between traditional television consumption and the Web. Not only are they venturing online for work, banking and information, they are now going online to consume their home entertainment, too. DVRs are certainly contributing to this as well.

Will our generation be the one to witness the death of prime time?

I believe that there will always be some regularity and predictability to the way we consume content. And in some cases, it will come out of necessity. Take a sports fan. You're always going to want to watch the Super Bowl live so that you know, second-by-second, who's winning with the rest of the world. Or take "American Idol," a prime-time show that continues to hold up well in the ratings.

We just need to look at those consumption patterns a little differently, for what was true yesterday is not true today. The old definition of prime time may be losing its relevance. Surely prime-time audiences will still exist; they are simply becoming more fragmented.

The way I see it, the concept of a fixed "prime time" will be replaced by a new, more fluid, "personal prime time" which is well aligned with the way consumers interact with media today. We are very much active participants in the way we consume content today. We feel entitled to decide how, where and when we should be able to access content. We don't want to be tied to a fixed programming schedule. We want to define a programming schedule that works around our own personal timetables. We don't want to conform, we want customization. We don't want to wait, we want instant gratification.

Like any type of change, isn't it more one's failure to adapt to it than the change itself, that can cause harm?

What do you think? Sound off in the comments. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the topic.

4 comments about "Is Prime Time a Dying Concept? ".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. William Hughes from Arnold Aerospace, June 12, 2009 at 1:53 p.m.

    I gave up on prime Time TV 2 1/2 years ago. You can thank Shoddily-Produced "Reality" Shows and the insane amount of Advertising for this. Once I am done for the day, I place a Disk in my trusty DVD Player and sit back and enjoy my evening's Entertainment.

  2. Rebecca Luce from OMD, June 12, 2009 at 3:52 p.m.

    I am not a prime time viewer - not because I don't want to be, but because my schedule doesn't permit it. I am usually in the gym or running errands - sometimes I catch a primetime show on the treadmill, but its only if I get to the TV remote before someone else does :) And even if I do, I'm 90% more likely to watch something on a cable channel as opposed to a major network, which leads me to my next point...

    I do not DVR primetime shows because my viewing patterns have almost entirely shifted to cable. I am more interested in programming on MTV/HGTV/E!/Bravo than anything the major networks have to offer.

    Unfortunately for the cable nets, I DRV everything. I cannot make it to the TV in time to catch something, and usually watch things within 7-10 days of recording it. And yes, I skip every commercial, even though I work in media and probably *should* be keeping my eyes open to see who is advertising...again, I don't have time for that.

    My last comment is, I'm not a big TV person :) If I had to chose watching tv or surfing the internet, I would 100% choose the latter.

  3. Peter Gardiner from Deutsch, June 12, 2009 at 6:35 p.m.

    We evolved what was "market defined" Prime to a concept (supported by rigorous research) called "Consumer Prime"...5 years ago...see Ad Age, May 17th, 2004.

  4. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, June 12, 2009 at 8:27 p.m.

    It's not that simple. Viewers don't watch the commercials on DVRs and it won't be long before someone figures a way to skip them on other platforms. Some Dutch teenager is probably working on it right now.

Next story loading loading..