Something rather profound happened at NBC this summer, and advertisers would do well to pay attention. The network made broadcast TV history in May when it debuted the critically acclaimed crime-drama “Aquarius” and immediately made all 12 episodes available for online streaming.
Then came a most unusual twist. “Aquarius,” which stars David Duchovny as an LAPD cop on the trail of Charles Manson, was renewed for a second season, even as NBC banished it to the network’s Saturday night lineup, television’s equivalent of the graveyard shift and typically a sure sign of any series’ demise.
But NBC insisted “Aquarius” would continue, mainly because a large number of viewers watched the show online. It was one of several shows renewed this summer based on the strength of their non-linear performances, all of which should serve as a warning to advertisers: audiences are increasingly watching what they want, when they want and how they want. More than ever, this means binge watching, often without ads. The mainstay of commercial television — the 30-second spot — is not yet dead, but its condition is terminal.
Kudos to NBC for trying something different. Time-shift viewing, pioneered by TiVo and popularized by on-demand streaming services like Netflix, is going mainstream and the network has rightly realized it no longer afford to ignore it. Indeed, NBC looked at “Aquarius” as an experiment of sorts that provided new insights into viewership patterns, binge watching behavior and social engagement – critical details that have helped the network better understand how audiences watch shows online.
There are a host of reasons why we’ve reached this point: an explosion of channels that has fragmented audiences, the pull of the Internet as an alternate source of entertainment, and technologies that put viewers in control.
As “Aquarius” has shown, the media is adapting, but there are no easy answers for advertisers. In an on-demand world, how are they supposed to reach viewers? If marketers don’t know when people are watching shows, how can they engage?
Here are three things marketers should consider as they ponder the way forward:
1. Take action: Your customers are adopting new behaviors and it would be easy to you to tie yourself in knots. But know that you can engage them through new channels and you can do it in real time. Yes, it’s a daunting proposition but standing pat is not an option.
2. Start with the data: On demand presents new challenges, but the very technology that enables time-shift viewing also generates reams of data that can help you understand how your customers spend their time and why they’re make those choices. Listen to what the data says. It will help you engage viewers in real time.
3. Embrace risk taking and don’t be afraid to fail fast: Following your data’s lead is a great way to start, but you might not find your answers immediately. Or you might discover new behavior patterns that take you and your marketing team in completely unexpected directions. Mistakes and surprises are inevitable. Don’t be afraid to experiment, but then rigorously analyze your data so you can quickly figure out what is working and what is not.
Brands that move now, and move quickly, will look back on Aquarius, not as a break with the past, but as a bridge to new marketing opportunities they hadn’t even considered.