We’ve been in an age of entertainment overabundance for a while now; an age of choice where non-linear, on-demand consumption across platforms and devices is absolutely the norm. The Internet has meant that content and convenience have become king at the expense of the networks.
Live viewing ratings have been tanking for decades — “Cheers” 1993 = 84 million, “Friends” 2004 = 52 million, “Empire” 2014 = 17 million. While hits today are not going to look like they did in the past, not being able to measure the reality of who is watching what, where, when and how has exacerbated the lack of clarity for networks by obscuring the real value of their properties to audiences.
This week, Nielsen announced its long-awaited Total Audience Measurement platform – the closest thing to a “holy grail of TV consumption measurement” we’re likely to see. If the platform is as good experts predict, the game is going to change considerably once networks start adopting. The speed of that change is down to understanding the new opportunities that this level of audience measurement offers up. Here are three areas that TV marketers should consider:
1. Understanding audiences on their terms. Find out when and where consumers are watching (and talking about) entertainment properties outside of linear cable viewing. The USA Network team behind “Mr. Robot” launched one of the most audacious campaigns in recent times, taking the pilot on the festival circuit to generate buzz and then converted that buzz into viewership by making the pilot available months in advance, free to consumers online – including on YouTube. While traditional ratings told a story of a rocky 1.75 million audience tuning in to the linear telecast of the pilot, Total Audience Measurement would show that a significantly higher number had already watched it on YouTube.
Inter-department communication between network marketers and digital products teams is essential for verifying the picture that Total Audience Measurement paints and will help to confirm which shows are performing well in terms of time-shifting on owned digital streaming platforms. Strategic planning and social media listening can reveal a huge amount around viewing behaviors too. Build a marketing plan that accounts for insights gained in order to reach audiences on their own terms in the future.
2. Focusing on the right entertainment properties. Marketing budgets only stretch so far. Total Audience Measurement is going to blow open the traditional approach of putting conservative budgets into multiple plans that lead solely into linear cable viewing, with a heavy up on big hitters. To counter this, networks will need to be selective in which properties they support – bigger bets against fewer shows. When dealing with a potential hit, networks will no longer be able to dump audiences after the season premiere – the data will tell the story of a missed opportunity. Instead, TV marketers need to stoke fans excitement through to finale while accounting for new audiences who join the party late. Surprise and delight them when they’re least expecting it. Provoke the re-watch (and not just as a pre-premiere catch-up tactic.)
Entertainment franchises are more like brands than ever – they can be relevant all year round, they can bring new viewers in at any time, and those views (assuming a level of volume) will soon be counted. Start with experiments outside of the traditional cycle, like a between-seasons social stunt, that seeks to tap into fan passions and also serves as a reminder to those who have the show on their consideration list that now is a good time to tune in.
The long tail of viewership is also a consideration that TV marketers should pay attention to. Some shows pick up momentum long after the network critical linear pilot. These shows are rarities, but certainly worth tracking. Is there an opportunity to repackage a show in season four, five, or six? Nielsen’s new measurement tool should help to answer the question.
3. Using the data as justification for a marketing revolution. Fundamentally, TV networks are in the audience game. The ratings system used today only tells part of the story and Total Audience Measurement changes this categorically. But only marketers themselves have the power to change how they respond when presented with a fuller, more accurate picture of audiences’ entertainment consumption. Working out how to take different shows to market according to how they’re really going to be consumed is an incredibly challenging and exciting opportunity. TV networks should capitalize on new opportunities that arise from understanding the data. Audience measurement will reveal that different genres and formats of programming have vastly different levels of being evergreen and marketing execs will have the ammunition to lobby for plans that break free of the traditional cyclical approach.
The industry has been desperate for Nielsen to deliver a more accurate picture of audience entertainment consumption for years now. We’re about to get what we’ve been wishing for. What are we going to do with it?