I just read yet another estimate of ad spending saying that digital is still inching up, while TV is still inching down. This is supposed to support the notion that brands are falling all over themselves to abandon TV and further enrich the coffers of Facebook and Google (since ain't no one else gettin' any).
This in spite of a cacophony of complaints from major brand CMOs about the quality and results of their digital spend. It seems that while ad tech has accelerated the speed at which you can buy and place online ads, it has done little to make sure that they are seen by real people in brand-safe environments. Meanwhile, eMarketer says about 87 million red-blooded Americans will have installed ad blockers by this time next year
In spite of what seems an unstoppable decline in ratings and audience, on average, American adults still watch a touch over five hours of television per day (about 36-and-a-half hours a week), most of it live. While younger folks are watching less, old folks are watching more.
And before you say that watching the boob tube is yielding to "other screens," consider this: Nielsen reports that time spent watching video on TV screens dwarfs watching on all other types of screens combined:
Percent of gross minutes watched
This is not to say that all is well in the land of linear TV. Never before has there been greater competition for eyeballs coming from all directions -- including Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, online video and skinny bundles (an attempt by the networks and cable programmers to chase budget-minded consumers who resent having to pay for hundreds of cable networks they never watch).
Ironically, as the networks lose audiences (some reclaimed by c3, c7 and out-of-home viewing calculations) they remain the most effective way advertisers have of reaching very big audiences, in a way that avoids all the pitfalls of digital ads. And so networks can raise their prices, putting brands in the unenviable position of paying more for less.
As a result, the TV nets are exploring how to use technology to data-target and prove that even though their costs are going up, their commercials still move the sales needle for brands.
If there are winners in all of these trends, it is the viewers. They win -- except for being bombarded with one ad after another eating up a third of every hour, which provides more incentive to tape-delay so they can skip ads altogether. And the competition for eyeballs has resulted in a windfall of exceptionally good programming.
I have my favorites, you have yours, but you have to admit that the early successes of edgy shows like "All in the Family," "Hill Street Blues," "The X-Files," "Good Times," "Battlestar Galactica," "Thirtysomething," "The West Wing," "The Wire," "Oz," "The Sopranos," "Dexter" and "Queer as Folk" encouraged both premium and linear TV to vastly improve what has been described almost from its inception as "chewing gum for the eyes."
There was a time when the only good TV was on premium cable (and to a fair extent, that's still true) but now there are great shows on a dozen cable channels and occasionally even the linear nets get it right.
But now all the cable systems need to get together and standardize their lineup schedules so that no matter what TV you turn on, you can more easily find the shows you like. And as I have said before, the next unicorn company will be the one that invents a digital interface that shows how, when and where to watch EVERYTHING video regardless of its origin (or age).
How interesting would it be if all shows were easily available through one source and programmers could finally see how their shows stack up against all forms of video? That would certainly make the pricing of ad units easier to understand, perhaps kill mandatory bundled buys, and help programmers find out if it's the lack of commercials that viewers like in paid services. It would also test if the future of TV is all PPV.
I suspect it might be.