Programmers' Second-Screen Love Affair Threatens TV Ad Effectiveness

There has always been an unnamed conflict of interest within the historic television business model, because a program’s ratings stand in as a surrogate for commercial ratings -- which are never actually known.  So as traditional TV networks spend money and use technology to “drive viewers” to programs, the old model says that is good for advertisers.  In fact, it is mostly good for TV programmers and distributors because they can charge more (more impressions = more revenue against a negotiated CPM).

Unfortunately for advertisers, with the advent of the remote control in the late 1960s and turbo-charged by the arrival of DVRs  in 44% of households over the last decade, viewer ad avoidance is at an all-time high. Now, there is great excitement among TV networks that “second screen” activity may recapture some lost viewer attention. Once again, however, viewer attention to the program is talked about much more than viewer attention to advertising.

Here are some of the ways second screens are being or will be utilized by programmers and distributors of television, along with some of my concerns:

  • Multiscreen ad networks are appearing that allow follow-up to television programming (news stories, sports statistics and even ads) on second screens (requests for info and even purchasing is possible through Web connections).  Will this cost advertisers more, or should they abandon buying linear ads on television and just purchase the second-screen online/mobile offerings, which are presumably measurable?
  • Some networks are syncing up television programs with second-screen social media networks dedicated to a programmer’s own shows.  These can deliver second-screen content and allow viewers to interact with the television program through different webcam feeds, polls, info blurts, etc. VH1, TBS, CBS and National Geo among others have all tried this kind of approach. But capturing program viewers is not the same thing as ad exposure.
  • According to VH1, about 75% to 80% of VH1 viewers are using a second screen while watching TV.  This is not the same as using related apps, as Steve Smith’s excellent Data and Targeting Insider article, “Fumbling Toward A Second Screen Connection,” shows.  Smith cites research from firm GfK finding that only 12% of smartphone users and 8% of tablet users typically run a TV app while watching content on the first screen. He observes, “the overwhelming majority of device owners (70% tablet, 79% smartphone) say the availability of a second screen app for a TV show makes no difference in their likelihood to watch the program.”
  • There are many non-network second-screen content providers like Facebook, Twitter, imdb and Hollywood entertainment websites hijacking eyeballs away from the networks and their program-branded second-screen apps, while programs are generating ratings that will be sold to advertisers on traditional TV.
  • I am surprised at how quiet NBC has been about its second-screen results from the 2012 Summer Olympics.

All this raises two not-so-new, yet troubling questions for advertisers:

1) Is the ad I’m paying for being viewed? 

2) Are there so many second screens pulling attention away from the programming where my ads are placed that it negatively and severely affects the scale and size of my message delivery?

Advertisers must avoid the illusion that they are getting more with second-screen involvement.

Is there any hope that second screens could help advertisers, viewers and providers? 

  • In another MediaPost article, Steve Smith proposes that true integration of content between multiple screens might address some of these problems. “The end game of second screening is a new kind of interactive dual-screen content format," he writes. "Having video move across displays, static and mobile, is really just an opening salvo in a much larger phenomenon that will involve simultaneous complementary content across at least two screens at once. We won’t be talking about 'first screen' or 'second screen' anymore because one might feel naked without the other.”  The early signs this might happen can be found with a recent approach offering viewers search and discovery on the second screen, then “throwing” it to the television.
  • I also believe that advertisers need to take a stand, and really hold the line on the budgets they are dedicating to traditional linear television, boldly moving dollars to the more accountable and increasingly available forms of online and VOD advertising. I have never been in love with pre-roll, but the direct exchange of viewer attention to advertising for content which is then uninterrupted or minimally interrupted by commercials, at a much higher advertiser CPM than is paid today, makes the most sense to me. A quid-pro-quo approach then allows everyone to naturally enjoy the second screen offerings, and know precisely how they relate to the first-screen ad buys.
4 comments about "Programmers' Second-Screen Love Affair Threatens TV Ad Effectiveness".
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  1. Matt Prohaska from Prohaska Consulting, January 10, 2013 at 11:59 a.m.

    Nice piece, John. It will be interesting if/when there comes a time when the "viewable impression" debate happening right now among digital publishers and advertisers moves to try for similar verification in broadcast, though DVR tracking I'd guess are helping. Imagine the analogy in digital today to paying for program ratings, if advertisers paid went by overall page views online as a proxy for ads shown (assuming similar ad insertion/rotation, which I know is far from apples to apples)

  2. Philip Moore from Philip Moore, January 10, 2013 at 2:43 p.m.

    I think consumers are moving away from accepting interruption. Look for the return of the King Biscuit Flour Hour. TLC and Extreme Makeover Home Edition figured out how to integrate their sponsors products at a level that wasn't necessarily seamless, but at least acceptable to their audience. Look for more of this kind of branded content in the future.

  3. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, January 10, 2013 at 5:17 p.m.

    Seems to me the second screen simply trades a cluttered mess of ads consumers don't want for an even bigger one they want even less.

  4. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, January 11, 2013 at 8:03 a.m.

    @TV Industry: Entitled much? If it's true that "about 75% to 80% of VH1 viewers are using a second screen while watching TV", then most of those people will be using the Internet. Seems to me, this is a case of second screens pulling attention away from the Web pages where *my* ads are placed.

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