Why Media Revenues Won't Ever Be Driven By Time Spent

There has long been a refrain in the media industry that various sectors deserve more advertising spend than they currently receive. Generally, it's accompanied by an implication -- and sometimes an outright declaration -- that at least some of a medium's “rightful share” of advertising spend is being wrongfully held by the Big Dog in the room -- TV.

Typically, we've heard such claims from the online community -- and more recently from the mobile community and others, such as email and social media. It's also a claim that has been made by analysts, albeit in slightly different terms.

Now, I'm not about to declare that one medium has any kind of entitlement to more or less of the overall advertising and marketing spend of the country’s brand owners.  The market is an open one, and if TV or any other medium is able to snag any amount of it -- no matter how disproportionate it may seem against whatever measure -- then all power to it.  I think it's called capitalism. It's for marketers and their agencies to determine the best use of media and advertising dollars based on available data -- and of course the buying and selling skills of the respective parties.



However, the argument continues to be made that because a given medium accounts for a given proportion of total consumer time spent with media, this proportion should somehow be reflected in the allocation of media budgets. It's a point that has been made many times (often by highly respected individuals), and repeated often.

But to my mind it is a mantra based on a flawed logic. It's an argument that simply doesn't stack up when examined objectively, because it assumes that all media deliver the same experience to the consumer; the same opportunities for engagement and conveyance of a message; the same opportunities to an advertiser, and the same spectrum of contexts in which it can be experienced.

This assumption is not true. One can no more make a direct comparison between TV and mobile than between TV and social media, despite all the activity and excitement in the newly emerging area of social TV. All communication channels offer their own unique combination of strengths and opportunities to different advertisers seeking to achieve different things. It's one of the reasons why the whole notion of campaigns run across platforms to increase efficiency has evolved.

To assume that one hour spent using a medium is the same and no more or less valuable than another is at best simple-minded, and more to the point, wrong.

In my time at Ball State University and now at Media Behavior Institute, I have been involved with a large amount of research into time spent with media and the context in which it is consumed -- some of which has ironically been used to support the very point I'm now railing against.

However, while it's obviously important to understand how much time people spend with their media of choice, such data is a starting point.

It needs to then be put into the context of when that time is spent with those media; the sequence in which media are commonly used and for what purpose. It's this much more complex mosaic of data that can provide insights that determine how advertisers -- or more accurately, their agencies -- can derive value from specific approaches to the use of different combinations of media.

Effort put behind an argument for more money being allocated to any medium on the basis that it deserves some kind of temporally-based parity with another represents time wasted. It will never succeed.  In the end, it is only by building the distinct and powerful case for the medium that it will achieve its full potential as part of the media mix.

And the more we listen to Wall St. analysts and others who tell us that time spent is the significant measure for what a medium should be looking to achieve in terms of revenues, the more trouble we’ll be in. We already know that Wall St. doesn't get everything right – don't we?

5 comments about "Why Media Revenues Won't Ever Be Driven By Time Spent".
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  1. Brian Peters from Microsoft, January 11, 2012 at 1:42 p.m.

    Great article, Mike.
    I've been noticing marketing mix news coverage recently that make comparisons of the apparent disconnect between hours of engagement spend by media vs dollars of spend on those media. I think that the supposed misalignment is yet another example of what your pointed out here.

    The hours of TV advertising consumption is not the right metric to compare against instances of digital engagement , for example. And furthermore, the marketing spend dollars across mediums are subject to extremely different buying efficiencies. So rallying attention around an infographic that shows the false insight of a gap or misalignment between spend and hours of consumption is a red herring.

    The drive to optimize marketing mix and efficiently managing a portfolio of tactics is a serious and complex challenge. It’s worthy of genuine approaches and capabilities for marketers to leverage. So, I agree with you that the idea of a granular comparison to hours spent vs. % of mix, or worse hours spent vs. % of dollars is too simplistic and unproductive guidance.

  2. Mike Bloxham from Magid, January 11, 2012 at 5:09 p.m.

    Thanks Brian.

    It seems to me that the more this argument is used, there more the people using it undersell the potential of the medium in question.

    I find it impossible to believe that anyone charged with optimizing the mix of media and marketing channels for a brand will be swayed by it.

  3. Tess Alps from Thinkbox, January 12, 2012 at 3:27 a.m.

    Hear, hear Mike. You might like to read our version of it (with accompanying graphs) here:

  4. John Grono from GAP Research, January 12, 2012 at 8:18 a.m.

    Mike, you are 100% on the money. A perfect example is cinema. Here in Australia, the average visitation is just over 4 movies per annum per person. With a two-hour runtime we're talking around 8 hours per annum ... which averages to around 80 seconds a day (proof that averages can be very misleading). On that back-of-an-envelope analysis you would never advertise on a cinema screen, though the cinema is probably the most attentive, captive and expensive audience going around.

    By the way, if based purely on 'time-spent' ... toilet advertising should be a huge winner!

  5. Mike Bloxham from Magid, January 12, 2012 at 9:05 a.m.

    Points well made. Funny you should mention toilets. I have no figures, but based on the stories appearing in the press over the last few years and the increasing number of times I find myself encountering one form of advertising or another (some more tasteful than others) in restrooms, I can only guess at that mini-sector's growth rate!

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