Will TV Program Promotion Become A 'Point Of Sale' Business?

I spend a lot of time these days thinking about the television program promotion business and looking at anonymous set-top-box viewing data that connects the viewing of on-air program promotions and the actual viewing of the promoted show. The more of this data I see, the more I'm convinced that the TV program promotion business is becoming more and more a "point of sale" business, not unlike packaged goods in grocery and convenience stores. 


I believe that TV shows need to be promoted to target viewers as close as possible to the moment when they are deciding what to watch: increasingly, the day or the hour the show airs, and not before. This is now necessary because of a convergence (or collision) of several phenomena in the television program promotion world of today -- clutter, recency, and the power of the "last impression."

Clutter is a big problem for viewers. As I have written before, TV viewers today have an enormous number of choices in programming, channels, platforms and viewing modes, many more than even a few years ago. As Barry Schwartz wrote in his book "The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less," having more choices makes it harder for people to make choices, and certainly harder for them to make them very far in advance. How many of you know what you want to watch every time you sit down in front of the TV?



Recency matters with remote controls. There is no question that recency in viewing an on-air program promotion is an enormous factor in a viewer's likelihood to actually tune in to the show. Promos delivered weeks in advance of the airing of a television show have no measurable impact on viewers' actual choices, while promos delivered the same day a show airs can have an enormous impact on recipients' viewing choices (based on Simulmedia's research of anonymous viewing history from millions of set-top boxes in the U.S.). Media researcher Erwin Ephron has long been a proponent of more "recency planning" in media, and targeting the purchase -- not just the people. In choosing TV shows, the "purchase" is the last click on the remote control.

The power of the "last impression." When you focus on targeting purchases -- or, in this case, viewing choices -- all too often it's the last impression that drives the purchase, not the first one. We have seen the power of this concept play out in the online ad world, and in search, where the last impression drives (and/or claims) the sale, and realizes most of the economics associated with the purchase. If most TV viewers in the U.S. today don't know what specific shows they want to watch when they turn on their TVs -- 56% to be exact, according to Knowledge Networks' recent study -- and on-air program promos are critical drivers of viewing decisions, which we learned from the Promax BDA ePoll study last year -- then the last relevant promo seen is going to have an inordinate amount of persuasive power.

Does this mean I think that branding is now dead when it comes to TV programs? Of course not. Given the program clutter problem, developing a deep brand relationship with viewers is even more critical for television programmers today. However, I do believe that programmers and networks now need to deliver their brand communication and "sampling" at the TV viewing "point of sale" -- on-air and very recent in time -- and regularly, if it is going to be effective. What do you think?

8 comments about "Will TV Program Promotion Become A 'Point Of Sale' Business?".
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  1. Dave Woodall from fiorano associates, March 4, 2010 at 7:32 p.m.

    Nice to see Erwin Ephron's name Dave; the Obi-Wan Kenobi of American ad planning as far as I'm concerned. Applying recency planning to the promotion of TV programming is an interesting exercise because of the product's perishable nature (unlike CPG's) and the fact we're dealing with specific-time viewing habits and patterns and a pretty narrowly defined channel.

    While I don't speak for Mr. Ephron, I'm sure he'd point out the fact that recency planning does not discount the role played by each exposure in the cycle. The last exposure, the "trigger", just happens to be in the right place at the right time; it's effectiveness dependant on leveraging previous exposures. Accepting that, the question then becomes if airing one promo immediately in front of the subject program 1x/week (or 1x/day for syndicated programming) accomplishes Recency's "Reach over Frequency" goal. And I don't know. It would obviously be interesting to run some tests though.

    The implications of course are greatest for the networks and stations themselves because of the huge amount of inventory given over to self-promotion...and that inventory's inability to be monetized. If a more sophistcated research methodology were applied to the scheduling of these in-house promos (as you're apparently doing Dave), more inventory could possibly be monetized without harming network/station/program branding. Definitely a good thing in light of recent advertising trends.

  2. Chris Polos from Simulmedia, Inc, March 4, 2010 at 8:20 p.m.

    The mediums which impact consumers closest to the "point of sale" are out of home and digital out of home networks. For many verticals, especially TV programmers, OOH & DOOH are platforms can't be turned off or easily ignored. Whether you are watching the programming inside a NYC taxi or driving on the expressway, these touchpoints are the last impressions before going home. These points of sale will ultimately drive the desired result for programmers: Tune-in

  3. Eric Porres from MeetingScience, March 4, 2010 at 9:58 p.m.

    Hi Dave,

    Great piece, and love the momentum behind program promotion addressability that leverages years of online BT knowledge. With that said, the 'last impression' is broken in the online advertising world and can't be used for comparison. It's too easy to 'game the system' to get credit for last view, especially now with pools of liquid cross-exchange RTB inventory. At least with TV programming you generally have a 15s or 30s spot as a uniform 'creative' whereas even a textlink can get "last" attribution when a 300x600 unit may have been served 2nd to last within the same hour or even session of a given person.

    Eric Porres, CMO, Lotame Solutions, Inc.

  4. Sefy Ariely from Orca Interactive, March 5, 2010 at 5:17 a.m.

    Very interesting piece. At the risk of annoying all advertisers out there, I believe that better solutions that address recency and deal with clutter are coming to the TV in the form of Content Discovery solutions. By making personal recommendations/promotions on TV programs, TV operators can assist those undecided 56% to make the "purchase" and act upon it, whether by watching in real-time or in time-shifted mode. If we want to drive real-time viewing for more ad exposure, such mechanisms can be tuned to favor those programs that are about-to-be-aired.
    Paula- All I can say is that when consumers are overwhelmed by companies that are focused on selling products, no one will make the sale because the customer will not be able to reach a purchase decision, so I have to agree with Dave that the one who helps the customer make the decision is the one who will reap the benefits.

  5. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, March 5, 2010 at 12:07 p.m.

    Let me illustrate the folly that fuels the thinking behind a station's on-air promotion of its own programming, beginning with the most compelling reason cited for this universal practice - it's free.

    But it's only free if you don't consider the actual cost. Let me explain by way of a real-world example of a mid-market television station that, like all stations, uses its own air time to promote its own local news product...

    This particular station - which I am assuming is fairly representative of the whole - consigned 400 HH GRPs a week for 4 weeks to promote its own news during a recent sweeps period.

    Their news was mired in last place with a 3 HH rating going into ratings. When the new book came out, it revealed no change whatsoever in the subject news' rating.

    The bottom line here is twofold: Despite consigning 1600 HH GRPs worth of promotion over just four weeks, the news needle didn't move. And whereas the station didn't pay itself actual money for the time, it was by no means free, because the message that emerged after four weeks was the station's abject failure to perform in its own market.

    Stated another way, if I were an advertiser contemplating a 400 GRP/week schedule, I'd want to see some results for my money. If the station can't help itself with a similar effort, why would I reasonably believe it could help me?

    The station would have been better off returning that inventory to sales and selling it to a paying advertiser. They would have been dollars ahead, and no better or worse off than before with their crappy news product.

    In fact, in hindsight, these 1600 points worth of "free" promotion only served to reinforce among the 97% of viewers not watching this station's news their precise reasons for not watching it.

    In the final anaylsis, the station foisted 1600 points worth of useless clutter on the market while giving the very audience they sought to impress more reasons to change the channel instead.

    Like I said, it's only free if you don't consider the real cost.

  6. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, March 5, 2010 at 8:56 p.m.

    Sefy, of course the ad that seems the most helpful to a consumer could be the one chosen, until one receives another message on the way to the purchase. No one questions the cacophony out there. But my point is that last seen/impression cannot be assumed or measured for the sacred ROI. Crash ! Car accident. Car is to be towed. Where? Quick, you look up auto body repair. Which do you chose? The last one in the pod? What pod? Or the one you have been seeing/hearing about over time? The one your neighbor told you about last week? The one your friend's son owns? Ruse column.

  7. Jim Thomas from Frank N. Magid Associates, March 9, 2010 at 6:34 p.m.

    The premise here is valuable for station self promotion and marketing. Engaging the audience with a consistent brand message across appropriate media works to build a brand identity over time. Then knowing your users' preferences and how they make choices can lead you to the correct final touch points to trigger the desired behavior - watching your program or newscast.

  8. Sefy Ariely from Orca Interactive, March 10, 2010 at 5:48 a.m.

    I do think that "selling" a TV program or On Demand asset has a different dynamic than other products. The (perhaps sad) fact is that we do not always invest a lot of thought into how we spend our time or how much of it we are spending, so getting us to spend another 30-60 mins of our lives in front of the tube primarily depends on the right pitch (=the right recommendation) and the right context (=when and where is it presented). In an impulse-buy environment like TV, acting upon a purchase decision, once it is made, is literally at the touch of a button.

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