Look To The Stars To Better Navigate Television

On a recent occasion, I was asked to speak about the television ecosystem and how it’s changing. As I gave my speech, I made the classic mistake of assuming everyone in the audience had been following TV’s changes the way the industry does. I needed a better way to capture the audience’s attention.

Fortunately, I had stumbled onto a way to explain today’s TV landscape after visiting he Griffith Park Observatory. The analogy hit me.

Broadcast and cable television can be compared to our solar system: The viewers are the sun, and for a long time, the broadcast television channels were the planets. There weren’t too many, so everyone was familiar with them—ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, and a few independents. We tuned in to watch our favorite shows at pre-set times, Nielsen figured out how many viewers watched, and that was our currency.

But then came the first television Big Bang: The astrophysicists of the media business expanded our solar system by creating hundreds of national cable networks. Think of it as television’s asteroid belt.



Many of those asteroids were small, but they were interesting, and definitely worth exploring.

Science and technology never stops reaching for the stars. Thanks to satellite and telecoms, our telescopes became more powerful, and we were able to reach beyond our solar system into an ever-expanding galaxy of channels and programming.

But that was just the beginning. A few years back, the industry discovered the equivalent of Warp Drive: streaming television. Hulu, Amazon, YouTube and Netflix took us to “where no person had gone before,” the outer reaches of the known universe. Evolution continues with the recent announcement of YouTube’s live TV channel offering.

Viewers will have more choices than ever before — not just what to watch but where and when to watch it. Viewers are no longer just the sun at the center of the solar system; they are the center of the universe.

They are in control.                    

From the moment humans put one foot in front of the other, we’ve been exploring and haven’t stopped since. As media professionals, we should look at the media universe the same way scientists look at the cosmos. They’ve sent rovers to Mars and exploratory vessels to the rings of Saturn and beyond.

We need to explore the ever-expanding video universe to get a better understanding of viewer dynamics.

In a recent trend, many of the portfolio media companies have shut down smaller performing networks; I liken them to white dwarfs which are basically dying stars.

As marketers, we need to rethink our traditional models of tune-in and viewership, as traditional schedules will eventually be thrown out the window. As a result, our TV buyers have evolved to video buyers. This doesn’t just mean a job title change; it required a new mind-set, new information sources and new skill sets.

We should not be forced to face this evolution; rather we must celebrate it and get ahead of it.

The greatest challenge we face today is that the conventional ways of measuring audiences must change. We need to be able to measure consumer engagement across all platforms simultaneously to gain a complete understanding of the cosmos we now operate in.

(Netflix viewing seems to be the equivalent of an audience black hole. The company has kept its audience numbers to itself. We can see the shape and size of it, but detailed sources such as Symphony AM’s VideoPulse are quoted as being “remarkably inaccurate” by Netflix.)

Given that time travel is the new norm, we can probably say all of the industry attention and efforts relating to linear measurement and C3 are quaint artifacts of a soon-to-be bygone era. In fact, today’s measurement doesn’t adequately reflect content viewership across screens, how they got there and whether it’s an ad-supported or ad-free environment.

We must broaden the way we think, redefine job roles, continue to educate our staff and involve our clients in ways we never did before. And we had best do it fast. As Leo Burnett said nearly 80 years ago, we must “reach for the stars.”

Except now, we mean it literally!

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