Commentary

Content is King -- Sort Of

It's hard to argue against the claim "content is king," but there's a bit of history in the media world that would suggest otherwise. Or at the very least, strongly suggest that there's room for two more thrones: distribution and mass audience.

These two other important elements receive short shrift, especially when the TV upfront kicks off. Here's why. First and foremost, TV networks work hard to generate excitement around stars they've signed for the fall, as well as the types of shows they have.

But the truth of the matter is that it doesn't really matter what the show is about. The pricing for most fall shows is driven by the time slot they're placed in. If a new show is behind a strong lead-in, it will be priced alongside the current strong show. If it's inserted into a "hammock," slot then the pricing will fall around what the other shows are priced at. And buyers accept these conventions based on historical practices. If there's a breakout hit that advertiser bought into during the upfront, then they reap the rewards of over delivery. If the show bombs, they'll get make-goods, and all will be well again. So one has to ask, "Is content really king?"

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All of the hype leading up to the upfront and projected double digit percentage increases takes me back to my own experience several years ago. I remember sitting in my office at an agency when the World League of American Football was signing up advertisers. The salespeople came in, talked about the teams, the players, etc. We knew we were going to buy what they were selling -- it was sports, it was airing on a good network, and its time slot had a history of achieving a certain rating. We looked at what was going to be programmed against it, negotiated with the network, and settled on a fair CPM. Well, we all know what happened to the WLAF, but the point of this anecdote is that it sums up the issues of that historical time.

On the digital side, the online video landscape is white hot. Every conversation I have with agencies and clients revolves around it. In fact, eMarketer just released a survey noting that most agencies believe online video is more effective than other ads. And I've come to realize that in the online world, clients and agencies care mostly about distribution and reaching as many people as they can. The show idea could be EXACTLY what the brand is looking for in terms of environment, messaging, and content.

But the first question everyone asks is,"Where is it going to run?" And the second question is, "How many people are going to see it?" Those are the key metrics that the online video marketplace needs to be able to deliver to the buyer. It's all about distribution and mass audience. If it doesn't have those, it doesn't matter to the brands.

Next time you hear someone use that media refrain, "content is king," let's hope you remember that distribution and audience have a right to share the same throne with content.

5 comments about "Content is King -- Sort Of ".
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  1. Ed Personius from Looknglas Window Video Systems, May 19, 2010 at 3:06 p.m.

    A very good point. But it goes to the question of the intent of the media buyer. As Digital Signage networks grow, there will be those who are actually looking for real targeting, and not merely the largest "claimed" audience. So ad placements should depend upon target audience characteristics as well as general audience numbers of "viewers". Direct response depends upon results, not a vague hope of brand awareness. Although Direct Response campaigns are a much smaller percentage of the advertising universe, they are the campaigns where a measureable result ensures continued ad investment. That's kinda important. So target-specific placements, while generally smaller, will important as well. Smaller scale digital signage deployments, properly placed, can still have high value to advertisers.

  2. Bruce May from Bizperity, May 19, 2010 at 3:28 p.m.

    Content is King because that is how you get mass audiences to tune in to begin with. From your point of view you can just keep looking at the numbers and let the producers figure out how to create the content. They know it's King and nothing will change that... except of course for stupid cat videos... nobody can beat that... not even Universal Pictures.

  3. Stanford Crane from NewGuard Entertainment Corp, May 19, 2010 at 4:58 p.m.

    What? A very obtuse argument. Content isn't king, but it relates to the ratings of a strong show (content). Networks are big distributors, yet they continue to languish because the same 10 shows are redistributed across all networks, hence the flight to cable (60+% of the audience). Of course the audience is key, but so is uniqueness of the audience. A Saturday night CBS show with roughly the same rating as ABC college football commands a small fraction of the price per spot. Why? Because there are dozens of other shows that deliver the same (female) audience, while few male programs exist outside of sports or cable. In the end it's about content and then it is about how many other shows deliver the same audience. As for me, I'm waiting for CSI Fresno. Please, Les. I can't get enough. Ditto, NCSI, although I prefer Norfolk over Fresno, for obvious reasons.

  4. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, May 19, 2010 at 6 p.m.

    Bruce,

    If only that part about mass audiences were true. The only mass generated by a typical program these days is in the 97% to 99.9% of the audience that isn't watching.

    And Stanford, this applies even more to Cable, despite viewership being up.

    I hope you guys aren't out selling reach, because there no longer is any.

  5. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, May 20, 2010 at 2:36 p.m.

    You bought the WLAF story that was sold to you? HA! Sounds like the old story of the Dallas reruns were going to do a 3 HH in the early afternoon. (OK, it was years ago, but you see the same assumptions continue.) The buyers don't care. They buy numbers. Whether there are m/g's or not, they are just buyers. Insight, instinct, community knowledge of all media and how it works in tangent does not figure in to their one specialty objective. Thinking and reasoning lacking regarding content, do You think time and placement figures into their buy especially when the planners and buyers for each medium are different people?

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