Time For Television/Video To Adopt 'Host & Guest' Model

It’s time for T/V to get over its longtime love affair with the “cat and mouse” approach to advertising. Can you imagine the hospitality business constantly hounding their guests to do something they don’t want to -- that has nothing to do with the reason they have come to the venue?

In the early 1920, even before television, broadcast radio was a medium looking for a way to monetize and cover the cost of producing and distributing content. Advertisers would literally produce a radio program, introducing it as “brought to you by …” -- and then pretty much get out of the way. Television also followed this model for a while, and when multiple advertisers began to run within a show, TV put self-imposed limitations on how many minutes of ads were allowed per hour to avoid government regulation.  These were overturned in the 1960s, when broadcast networks could now expand the ad load per hour  -- which they continued doing for the next 50 years, with abandon. Television ads became not only intrusive, but immensely interruptive.

Google took a page from the original radio concept when it was looking to monetize Internet search in the 1990s by building around sponsorship. The “host/guest” relationship was seemingly restored, and advertisers paid more for this concept.

As bandwidth increased and video became viable online (and on mobile platforms), a variation on the old sponsor model was introduced by YouTube and others. The “pre-roll” required, as a cost of entry, that viewers give their attention to an ad of reasonable duration -- after which the content was delivered and advertisers got out of the way. Content was no longer interrupted by ads. By treating consumers more as “guests,” along with using new tracking technologies, digital video also restored advertisers’ faith that an ad was actually seen.

Traditional television providers now need to respond to this trend, since we are already seeing traditional television dollars shifting to the better experience and accountability of digital video.

Many Millennials, who grew up in an on-demand world, loathe the idea of linear advertising and are drawn to Netflix and Amazon, where content is paid for at a cost well below cable, and ads are absent. So is there room in the future of T/V for ad-supported media delivery?

We need a bold media company to step up and make explicit a new contract with and for consumers, becoming a gracious host that respects a valued guest, as in other businesses.

I offer the following as an ideal “win-win” route media providers can take to the next level of the T/V business model:

  • Give viewers a choice of a payment, micro-payment or exchange of reasonable attention to an ad in exchange for content.
  • Keep to 15- or 30-second ad pods for short-form content.
  • Never run an ad for more than 60 seconds for long-form content.
  • Always let the media consumer know the length of ad load prior to delivering content.
  • Explain the model itself: Content costs money, and is paid for either by advertising, viewer fees, or a hybrid.
  • Allow consumers to navigate their own ad experience in exchange for content.
  • Advertisers will pay more when a viewer actually watches an ad, with even higher premiums when viewers choose what ad they want to watch. A viewable ad is not the same product as “opportunity to view.”
  • Continually explain that the provider is dumping the “cat and mouse” model for the “host and guest” or “sponsorship” model.
  • Eventually deconstruct the pre-roll to "anytime viewing," where the consumer can view ads and earn credits for media viewing even outside of the content-consumption experience. After all, why do ads need to run within content? (Content used to be the surrogate identifier for audience, and now we have sophisticated addressable targeting tools.)

In the end, I believe consumers will gladly exchange attention for content if they are asked respectfully, feel they have a choice in the matter -- and if they understand their role vs. the role of the advertiser/advertising and content provider.

So who’s going to step up and reinvent the ad-supported T/V model?

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