Commentary

Online Advertising: The Era Of Lowered Expectations

Eric Schmidt dubbed advertising the last bastion of unaccountability in corporate America, and judging by the following, he may be right.

According to a Goldman Sachs study, "broadcast ratings in the 18- to-49-year-old demographic, the one most coveted by advertisers, fell by 17% in the winter months compared with last winter." Goldman Sachs called it "the sharpest pace on record." Nonetheless, TV companies continue to print money, with $70 billion spent on TV advertising in the U.S. each year and no real signs of slowing down -- with CBS in particular persuading advertisers to "pay roughly 10% more for commercial time than they did this time last year."

“We pull together mass audiences like no one else can,” boasts CBS chief executive Leslie Moonves. Indeed, while the market's grip on the 18-49 demo tumbled by 17%, CBS' share only slipped by 3%. That's not to suggest that others are in denial in TV land. “We’re clearly disappointed” with the season’s ratings, said Chase Carey, president of Fox parent News Corporation.

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Instead of Too Little, Maybe Too Much - Still

The truth of the matter is that while audiences will continue to shift their consumption from TV to Web, it might be a case of "too much, still." There's absolutely no logical explanation for why TV ads have not shrunk, let alone increased. However, as the saying goes: if no one ever got fired for placing ads on Yahoo, then you can imagine that nobody has ever been fired for placing their ad dollars on ABC, NBC, CBS or Fox. 

Meanwhile, online investors have grown wary and impatient, and that is starting to appear in the tone and message of the studies and reports that have shifted from bullish (if not drunk euphoric) to more realistic and sanguine. For example, we talk less about online supplanting (let alone replacing) TV buys -- rather, about how online complements and reinforces TV.

Frankly, while TV execs are probably starting to wonder if they're in the early, middle or late innings of a tectonic shift in viewership and monetization, the reality is that hanging out with new media executives seems like an episode of Mad TV's Lowered Expectations, where suddenly everyone is a tad more realistic.

This era of lowered expectations isn't restricted to online video. Facebook essentially belly-flopped after its IPO. For all of the talk that social media would revolutionize advertising, it looks like advertising (among other things) killed Facebook, proverbially speaking. Meanwhile, Tumblr -- porn and all -- is close to selling for a very respectable $1 billion, but on the tacit admission that its monetization bombed. One hundred million in 2013? Yeah, right.

When it's said and done, I always think back to the mantra that the Web shrinks everything, which may include advertising.

I guess over time it's inevitable that TV advertising flattens and shrinks, but whether or not that will be a zero-sum game toward Web ads remains to be seen.

In the meantime, can we can start with breaking out video from display. Why on earth is that still bundled?

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