Driven To Distraction -- In Cars And In Front Of The TV

Driven to distraction on the highway? No, I'm not talking about texting while driving, I'm talking about big billboard signage.

Yeah, but how to get drivers’ attention? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has started two billboard campaigns that implore drivers not to text.

Of course, you could argue that someone will get distracted by looking at those billboards. The medium can be the message. In Los Angeles and other big markets, big modern high lumens-and-wattage digital billboards can be distracting to some.

There is also TV distraction. New TV providers and marketers are looking for distraction --and well as disruption. (Of course, all this can be way less tragic). What better time to market your deodorant, your holiday movie, your mobile phone service  -- or your TV show --- than during some idle car commuting time.



The good news is that drivers don't really watch video on their mobile phones while driving -- I think -- though that would seem somewhat more passive than texting.

Years ago, I knew of a TV/video business reporter who had a portable DVD machine and monitor sitting in the passenger seat of his car while he commuted around Los Angeles. This helped him catch up with all the DVD offerings and marketing materials. Slow-moving traffic was no excuse, however. I hear he has an iPad now.

All that is understandable. But grabbing a cup of coffee out of a holder can also be a point of distraction. Talking with passengers -- and occasionally looking at them -- is a distraction.  Estimates are that some 6,000 people die annually because of distracted driving.

We put this on ourselves. There are multitudes of studies that talk about in-home entertainment and media multitasking. That means less watching of TV shows and of course, less "engagement" with TV commercials -- unless they are also being fast-forwarded.

Marketers say they really don't want "disruption." They want consumers to come to them when they need to -- at their convenience -- with their full attention. But what if getting someone's "full attention" is a myth? And what if that has an effect on TV ratings -- and on what we believe is America’s favorite TV show?

Right now, Nielsen says that  -- excluding NBC's "Sunday Night Football” -- that honor goes to "American Idol," with over 20 million viewers.  But TV Guide’s annual "fan favorite" poll of 300,000 viewers says that "Community," NBC’s low-rated comedy that has less than half of "Idol"'s numbers, is the correct answer.

Maybe those polled are just distracted -- or maybe there are other distractions at Nielsen or elsewhere. In any event, everyone should first keep their eyes on the road.



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