Why Television?

Here you are, reading the TV Board on MediaPost. So it's probably safe to assume that you, like me, love -- or at least give a hoot about -- television.

Those of us who have created new companies in the space -- TRA, Invidi, Visible World, Simulmedia, Black Arrow, Media Bank, Canoe -- have joined the big players (networks, stations, media agencies, advertisers) in pursuing a big opportunity in TV and TV advertising.  

But have you ever asked yourself why?  This is a question that the inspirational speaker/advisor Simon Sinek rhetorically asked in a TED talk last year. As Sinek pointed out, most people have no problem explaining "what" they do (broadcast a program, for instance) or "how" they do it (on a branded network addressing a specific niche).  However, very few can say "why." For example, as he likes to say, Apple's "why" is that it challenges the status quo and thinks differently about everything it does.  This is much more than what other computer companies do -- make consumer electronic devices and computers (the "what") that have unique designs (the "how").



So, again, "why" TV?

It's not the most interactive medium around. It's not the most dynamic medium around. It's not the most innovative or even the most profitable media around (though I might argue that it's getting there).

Nonetheless, as David Goetzl wrote last week in MediaPost's TVBlog, "TV is a triumphant medium."  Despite increasing competition for viewers' eyeballs and advertisers' dollars, and despite new-media fear mongers who point to imminent declines in consumer spending, program ratings, and media budgets, the reality is this:

·       Most people -- at least most American adults --  still watch more television than any other medium.

·       Television ad spending is poised to increase.

·       Though online advertising is growing more rapidly, most ad dollars still target TV.

So television continues to be resilient as ever.

But "why"?

Television is a great branding medium. In fact, according to a study by Innerscope Research and Fox Broadcasting, it's the best branding medium -- better than online. The study, which looked at participants' biometric response to advertising, found that "unconscious emotional responses direct attention, enhance learning and memory, and ultimately drive behaviors that our clients [aka advertisers] care about." Combine that with the fact that new data solutions now allow advertisers to track how ads are driving actual sales, it becomes clear that even as online and other platforms continue to join the media mix, television will remain a core branding platform.

Viewers connect with television and  its advertising. There's little question that television viewers connect with their favorite programs. But they connect with the advertising, too. Big-screen advertising is mostly branding, while online advertising is generally transactional -- users (not "viewers," note) are asked to click through to see or read or buy something. By contrast, television inhabits a certain sweet spot that may or may not lead to a transactional event. Either way, however, viewers will certainly be entertained and engaged.

Television just keeps getting better. Television may be "old" media, but technology is changing it rapidly and dramatically. When was the last time the TV industry had hundreds of millions of VC dollars flood into the space?  Every day, television programming is becoming more interactive, is available on more screens, Web analytic techniques are now available to create more accountability, and addressable advertising on television is just about here. As anyone who was at CES this year knows, more great change is just around the bend.

For all these reasons, and despite myriad challenges, television seems not only to be here to stay, but it's thriving. You see it in the creative renaissance in programming and advertising, and in viewers' response to both. Now it's up to us to make it so -- keep the programming innovative (and mostly ad-supported), the advertising relevant, and the right audiences watching. Why? Because we love television  -- and the ads that run on television.

8 comments about "Why Television?".
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  1. Philip Moore from Philip Moore, July 25, 2011 at 10:52 a.m.

    An interesting perspective, but I would substitute "video" where you say TV. As you mention in your last paragraph, the content is spreading beyond the box and showing up on tablets, cell phones, and refrigerator doors. Video content is certainly more emotionally compelling that static images to most adults.

    So your points could be restated as:

    Video is a great branding medium
    Viewers connect with video and its advertising
    Video distribution just keeps getting better

    If you want to stick with the original premise of "why" TV. I think the real answer is the inertia of an entrenched bureaucracy. Thousands of people are employed planning and buying TV time using tools that rely on Nielsen ratings. Contracts are negotiated with guarantees based on Nielsen's estimates of how many people saw an ad. When interactive TV becomes available and I only have to pay for an ad that gets a viewer to "like" it, and perhaps pay a little more for an ad that gets a viewer to "share" it, then I'll be as excited about the future of TV as you are.

  2. Rick Monihan from None, July 25, 2011 at 11:47 a.m.

    Great article, and I'd agree with Philip about substituting "video" for "TV". Especially since a portion of your discussion is about the increasing interactivity of TV and the flood of VC. Clearly "TV" isn't just a question of analog vs. digital anymore, or online versus linear.

    We are moving rapidly to a place where video is the key term, rather than any perceived constraints of the distribution system it utilizes.

  3. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, July 25, 2011 at 11:47 a.m.

    If anyone (other than those who make a living selling or buying media) really "loves" the ads on TV, why is it that they frequently, given the opportunity, skip over the ads? The truth is, until recently, the ads were an interruption, the way a piece of the landscape is interrupted by outdoor advertising. We can't skip the billboards, but we do skip the spot ads in the shows we record on DVRs. Usually. Which speaks not so well of our love of advertising.

  4. Bill McCabe from Eicoff, July 25, 2011 at 5:48 p.m.

    We have been saying for quite some time that the demise of TV has been greatly exaggerated

    Video/online guys seem defensive that they haven't taken over the world yet.

    Simple test: You're at home. Are you going to watch TV on your smartphone or on your 60-inch HD TV?

    Rather than embracing and building on evolving video technology, many online guys seem to be digging deeper into their own silos.

    Thanks for your article.

  5. Cece Forrester from tbd, July 25, 2011 at 7:54 p.m.

    I watch TV dramas to see a story told well by a team of expert content creators. I really don't want to be interactive with it, at least not until it's over. I want to sit comfortably and be absorbed in a high-quality sound and picture experience. This will not happen as I sit in front of my computer (that's for looking up the actors and getting an episode list), or on a tiny hand-held screen while walking down the street and chewing gum (that's for getting myself run over by a taxi).

    Yes, commercials are interruptive, and many of them are stupid or not relevant to us, which is why we tend to skip them when we can. But there is one rather instructive exception: Super Bowl. On that day, the name of the game, if you will, is to offer high-quality commercials that most viewers will enjoy watching--so that they become part of the day's entertainment and the week's discussion. But for everyday viewing, let me repeat a suggestion I made a while ago: that we agree to modify DVR and on-demand technology so that people can opt in or out of commercials one at a time. Once they have the choice to zap one and move on to the next--just like turning the page in a magazine--they may give each a chance to draw them in rather than skip them all out of habit--or because fast-forwarding doesn't easily stop at the right place.

  6. Rich Ullman from Outbrain, Inc., July 26, 2011 at 10:22 a.m.

    Hi Mark,
    Why TV?
    For the audience... Because its a great storytelling medium and as human beings, we love to hear stories and, even better, see them told. Hell, even a sporting event is storytelling to some extent because of the ebb and flow, the excitement, and that you never know the ending (except, as of late, when the Seattle Mariners play).
    People love it and respond to branding in TV, in part, because they are more passive and willing to invite the messages to be told to them. Yes, some of us skip commercials with the DVR, but advertisers, programmers and measurement services alike will adapt to that in the same way that they adapted to cable in the 1980s and 90s (and they still do adapt).
    We've got more choice in this content than ever before, which I would argue is the main reason that TV viewership is stronger than ever.
    With due respect to Philip's comment, I would only agree in part. Video is exploding and will continue to do so into tablets and smartphones, etc. But it will continue to be in fragments (of both content and audience size), so it ultimately will need to be treated a little differently by marketers. People's threshold for long form content on an iPhone is pretty low, so they deployment of ads will be different.

    The 'Why' for marketers? To paraphrase Willie Sutton... that's where the eyeballs (and money) are.

  7. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, July 27, 2011 at 1:28 a.m.

    Interested by the idea of "substitute video for TV".

    Truth is, we have looked at this for several years. It doesn't work.

    There is an audience magic for marketers in the way TV works that will, in my belief, never be found with online video. It's a hard reality to explain, except it remains impossible to generate even a 1000th of the marketing power of TV online.

    As to the random comment about DVRs... Research now shows tht advertising impact has increased with DVRs - not the decrease ad agencies rushed to predict (in a fit of self-loathing?).

    The TV market is much more subtle than anyone expected - and much more resilient.

  8. Mark Lieberman from TRA, July 27, 2011 at 12:40 p.m.

    When I refer to TV, I am talking about the programming, not the means by which the programming is delivered. So that does include TV programming viewed online, on tablets, on smartphones, etc. -- video by another name. Of course, I’d personally rather choose to watch the most compelling “TV” on a 60” screen over a smartphone any day.

    However people are watching “TV”, the industry needs to go well beyond Plain Old Ordinary Ratings to make sure advertisers are reaching the right audience (defined as consumer’s viewing AND purchase behavior). Nielsen does not provide that insight for ads -- whether a consumer fast forwards over them or not -- even though that data is now available. And as we’ve seen, there are plenty of stories in the data (see link: for buyers and sellers to use.

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