The Redefinition Of Television Is Leaving Advertising Behind



There’s a lot of talk about redefining what is considered to be “TV” in this fast-changing media landscape. It’s appropriate that the FCC’s Media Bureau is currently mulling whether to expand the legal definition of television to include digital services (notably, though, only ones that pre-schedule their programming, so Netflix wouldn’t count here). Following on the heels of this year’s insanely digital-heavy upfronts, we in advertising are dealing with a world where what we consider to be “television” looks very different from how it did only a few years ago.


All these events bring up an important issue: If we’re redefining what television is at every turn, still, from what I can tell, the industry isn’t rushing to redefine the advertising that supports TV-quality content. As TV evolves, sticking traditional commercials on digital platforms is just going to look more dissonant than ever. Have you ever watched a TV show online and been bombarded by the same commercial for the same product multiple times, during what seems like way too many commercial breaks, and ended up hating both the advertiser and the show? That’s just a terrible user experience. Analog-style, frequency-based planning just doesn’t work in a world that’s going digital.


The redefinition of television may literally leave advertising behind. From Netflix to HBO Go to Amazon Prime, the most-talked-about new video players are all either subscription-based or have an ad-free premium version. If you control any portion of the massive, multibillion-dollar advertising industry, no matter how small, this should deeply concern you.


And maybe that’s why, as a fellow MediaPost writer noted earlier this week, traditional TV ad revenues are surprisingly higher than a lot of digital folks would assume, and they aren’t shifting the way we might expect them to. In fact, they’re still growing.


Here’s my theory: There simply isn’t a quality alternative for buying media in digital, at least not nearly as good as in “traditional” TV. I can tell you why TV dollars won’t go online in 10 words: TV impressions are 100% of the screen for 30 seconds. And until digital starts to face this fact, television advertising’s transformation is going to lag behind television’s own.

2 comments about "The Redefinition Of Television Is Leaving Advertising Behind".
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  1. Terry Heaton from Reinvent21, October 2, 2014 at 5:11 p.m.

    Joe, Joe, Joe. The powers that be won't believe you any more than they've believed me over the years. Just like they didn't believe in what ad agency owner Kathy Sharpe told them 10 years ago in an op-ed piece in this very publication:

    For us, the industry dubbed the "Myth Makers" actually has depended on some very complex and intricate myths as we have built our multi-billion-dollar myth-making industry.

    Did Nielsen ever offer more than a gross proxy for the real television audience? No, but that was okay, as long as that stand-in was big and growing (and the one with the most buying power). Were media planners ever blind to the implications of magazines inflating circulation numbers with cheap subscription drives? Even in the days of the two-martini lunch, everyone knew that the value of the impression had to decline. It's just that nobody much cared to do anything about it. Certainly, nobody from the agencies would; and even advertisers blithely ignored it because there was no alternative to TV other than print. Those four-color spreads were so beautiful.

    The naked truth is that the foundation is not cracking - it was simply never there. It was just a series of shared beliefs, like a religion, or a culture. And, yeah, there was a basis for it - a methodology, even a rationale. But it wasn't reality.

    These are breathtakingly honest words from a person who ought to know. Ms. Sharp went on to charge the advertising industry with living in denial and encouraged them to let consumers take the lead in determining the evolution of their industry. Moreover, she wrote, it's wrong to blame Nielsen for the current conundrum.

    Broadcasters have ignored the reality of the blowback from viewers relentlessly carpetbombed with ads, because, in their minds, they had a right to do as they pleased. And so they expressed shock when, given DVRs, people rushed to delete ads from their viewing experience. What? How DARE they?

    It's tough to be in the advertising business when there are no more ads, eh?

  2. Tom Cunniff from Tom Cunniff, October 6, 2014 at 1:33 p.m.

    The "TV will remain the permanent center of the marketing universe" people and the Digital Triumphalists who insist that TV is dead are both wrong. What both miss is that the real story is about two macro trends. TREND ONE is the atomization of audiences. As screens and devices proliferate, the foundations of mass media fracture. TV will not disappear, any more than billboards or radio disappeared when TV arrived. But, TV will never again have the reach, influence and power that it did at its peak. Still, a TV industry with significantly diminished power will remain very important. Watch what Dave Morgan is doing at Simulmedia carefully. IMO he is on the right track. TREND TWO is the shift in the way that consumers are persuaded. In 1980, a consumer had very few options for learning about products and services: mass media, retailers, Consumer Reports (IF they reviewed that product) and a handful of friends. TV was enormously influential. Today a consumer has many more options including dozens of independent review sites and the opportunity to ask questions of real users from around the globe. Here again, TV will never again have the reach, influence and power that it did at its peak. A great brand ad is no longer enough to build awareness, preference and trial: on a very fundamental level the product or service must truly deliver on what it promises and be noticeably different and better than its competition. The most important job in marketing today is to build better products and services, not just better ads. The primary role of TV today is awareness. IMO this can be better accomplished in shorter-length spots. We don't need :30 seconds or even :15 just to remind consumers we exist and why we're better. The industry should be looking hard at :05 spots.

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