Why TV Ad Folks Should Learn Digital Skills -- Now

  • by , Featured Contributor, December 13, 2018
In a recent column, I predicted that 50% of the jobs in the television advertising business will go away over the next five years.

As you might expect, it elicited some pretty strong responses in the comments from a number of readers, with many pointing out that this might not have been the most considerate way to make the point.

I understand the sentiments of those who believe I was too harsh, but I don’t agree. I wrote the column because I really care about TV advertising and the amazing people I know who work in the industry. Just as I cared about those who worked in newspapers, the industry where I worked 25 years ago, and which has seen better days.

I believe that people need to confront impending realities no matter how scary they are. People need to prepare for an inevitable future that they often cannot control, but must adapt to if they want to stay in the same field.



In fact, what should be comforting to folks who work in TV advertising is that there is a pretty clear path forward — for those who want to take it.

The world of the TV ad business is changing because all advertising and marketing is becoming increasingly digital, data-driven and software-managed.People with skills in those areas are in demand. The number of open jobs far exceeds qualified applicants. Just look at postings on LinkedIn.

That’s not the case for people with legacy media channel skills. For sure, it’s not easy to learn digital skills. It takes an open mind and hard work. But the quality, diversity and affordability of educational resources in these areas is extraordinary, whether someone wants to learn on a service like Skillshare, take a class from the Interactive Advertising Bureau, get an online degree from a community college or just read books on these subjects.

No one who truly wants to grow their knowledge and skills in digital communications, data analytics, decision systems, artificial intelligence, software development or product management can blame a lack of resources.

Why do I care? Like so many of you, I’ve seen this movie before. Too few in the newspaper business acted fast enough, and too many found themselves laid off and out of a job without a plan or appropriate preparation.

Even closer to home, but further in my past, I grew up in a small coal town in western Pennsylvania where so few of those working in the coal, steel or in heavy manufacturing in the 1970s were able to proactively retrain for new jobs before the mines, furnaces and factories closed. A generation and a half were lost — and all because they held onto unwarranted hope and a lack of the kinds of educational and retraining resources available today.

What do you think?

23 comments about "Why TV Ad Folks Should Learn Digital Skills -- Now".
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  1. Matt Filippi from WICU12, December 13, 2018 at 4:23 p.m.

    All I've heard for years is how important it is to TARGET... it is ingrained in a marketers brain. However, time after time i've seen targeted marketing campaigns fail because they didn't have a mass media incorporated into the campaign.

    I think a lot of us in the advertising business push this stuff to justify our jobs, but in reality I don't think we really know the consumer's mind or who our exact customer is or we underestimate the influencer.

    Should the mass medium of broadcast television fade away it will not only be bad for those in the business, it will be bad for those selling products and services.

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, December 13, 2018 at 5:30 p.m.

    Dave, it all depends on who you are referring to when you speak of "TV ad folks". If you mean agency medi planners and TV time buyers, certainly---to a point. If you mean TV time sellers and marketing people at the networks and other sellers, certainly---to a point. If you mean CMO's or top creatives, however, the amount of learning would have to be set at a different level---conceptual, yes, but detail, not likely. Also, I would point out that digital TV folks at many levels need desperately to learn how branding advertising works as well as how TV programmers and ad sellers interact with time buyers, how Nielsen operates, how media plans are orchestrated, how branding ad campaigns are evaluated, etc. etc. etc. They might also take a close look at the wealth of research on how viewers react to TV shows, attentiveness, ad recall and other metrics. Only then will they begin to understand that the one size fits all direct response approach preached by digital proponents isn't necessarily the right way for all advertisers.

  3. Pam Livolsi from Media Intelligence, December 13, 2018 at 7:48 p.m.

    You've hit a nerve.  Not because I'm living in a state of denial as a 30-year media veteran.  But because I've done the homework and I can tell you with certainty that the massive shift of ad dollars into digital advertising over the last seven or eight years has done tremendous damage to brand growth.  Evidenced-based marketing has proven beyond any doubt that mass unduplicated reach is what drives growth (Read How Brand Grow and HBG II).  Television advertising buys more guaranteed (remember post buys), unduplicated reach per dollar, per geographic area, on a weekly basis than digital by a long shot.  I've read the research, I've studied comparable metrics, I read the industry reports, I plan and buy both and I've studied client performance data relentlessly.  There is no question.  The massive shift of client budgets into digital is not based on logic and evidence.  So why is the shift happening and why are 95% of media industry jobs in the digital space now?   Skewed headlines don't help, like when MediaPost emphasizes audience "shifts" rather than actual audience numbers in headlines (Like the Joe Mandese headline about the Q2 2018 Nielsen Total Audience Report).  This kind of reporting creates a false reality the perfectly sets the stage for digital vendors and unscrupulous agencies to step right in and take advantage of naive clients.   It's becoming common knowledge that digital vendors mark up media cost by 50%, then agencies mark it up another 40%. It's the new cash cow because there is no transparency nor accountability.  TV station ownership is requiring reps to push digital products more than their TV product now.   There's no logic behind it other than huge, hidden, mark-ups.  Let's translate this into real dollars.  At those mark-ups, it takes $333,333 to deliver $100,000 worth of digital ads.  There's a reach killer for ya.  Then, factor in the insane frequency caps that digital vendors try to get away with and there's another reach killer.  I'll stop there even though I haven't even mentioned reach killers like non-human traffic, ad blockers, and downstream supply chain vendor commissions.   The inappropriate reallocation of budgets into digital has the industry in a massive state of malpractice.  The digital party is going to come to an end when enough clients catch on and digital skills won't get you a cup of coffee.  We call this industry problem #brandsuicide!   Are you going to start talking about it?

  4. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, December 14, 2018 at 6:47 a.m.

    Pam, in a way the good news is that the huge shift of branding ad dollars into digital media as the ad spending tallies seem to be suggesting has not yet materialized. Take out direct response spending, lead generation, classifieds, etc. and digital still trails traditional media by a huge margin. Also, the suppposed flight of TV eyeballs to digital venues is largely a myth. The actual decline of "live TV" consumption is taking place at a slow but steady rate of about 10 minutes per day per adult per year. What's more other ways to watch TV are where most viewers are turning to---"connected TV", SVOD, etc. If one checks the Nielsen website in the same 2018 report it shows clearly that digital media usage spikes mainly in the daytime hours when TV viewing is lowest and is, no doubt, largely based on out-of-home smartphone usage--- very little of which is to videos. Once TV programming becomes broader based in the early evenings and primetime and most poeople are at home, TV completely dominates.

    The basic problem is that very few people really understand the audience surveys so it's easy to fall into the trap of looking at total media usage stats, especially when one trends "TV" against "digital", and conclude that the two are competing for the average person's media time. While this is true to a modest, especially extent for light viewing teens and 18-24s, most digital media usage is for other purposes than obtaining visual programming entertainment, sports consumption, news, etc. Indeed, the amount of digital video usage---per Nielsen-- is dwarfed by the time spent with TV content for most age groups and even among the younger set more time is devoted to TV than digital videos.

    In short, advertisers are safe---for the time being----and while certain sectors of traditional media are hurting, its not being eclipsed by digital. Rather, both traditional and digital media ad sellers are learning painful lessons and adapting to the realities of marketing and advertising. As these adjustments develop advertising will be generally enhanced, not destroyed. Just my opinion, of course.

  5. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia replied, December 14, 2018 at 8:41 a.m.

    Ed, I totally agree. Digital folks need to learn about how television works. Media would operate much smoother and more effectively if digial folks were less myopic. Unfortunately, not learning TV will probably not cuase most digital media folks to be much less employable. But, not knowing digital will have that impact on poeple workig in roles that have a significant dependence on TV advertising. Companies in that sector are shrinking their teams and maximzing employability will mean having more than just TV ad skills.

  6. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia replied, December 14, 2018 at 8:45 a.m.

    Pam, I absolutely agree that TV advertising is underinvested in and poorly understood by many in today's media world, and that digital myiopia is at least partially too blame (I also think that the TV industry has been pretty poor at promoting and justifying the value of their ad products in ways that modern marketers want to hear it). If fact, that is a major reason that people in the TV ad industry need to gain stronger digital skills and chops. They need to be able to speak in the digital media language, and they need to be able to take the message directly to marketers. TV people only speaking TV will not last long.

  7. Chris Williams from ACA, December 14, 2018 at 11:01 a.m.

    There is much to be learned in both directions. Boil it all down to the simplest building block, the impression and investigate what that means in television and in digital - what are the differences? Evaluate the quality of the impression based on the standards the MRC publish. Look at the methods that link impressions of all kinds with outcomes on the advertiser's sites and sales in both the short term and in the long term. The TV vs Digital argument is a useless waste of time. Yes, advertisers need broad reach but they also need targeted reach and formats that navigate and convert like search. Television is going to start generating far more data then it ever used to and some of that is looking a lot like the planning methods and buying platforms used in digital media.
    It's time to kill the stat that consumers watch 28 hours of tv a week - so what?
    And it's time to kill the concept that digital offers super precise measurement - if it did fraud and viewability would have been solved years ago.
    Whatever your skill set is now - fill in the gaps.

  8. Matt Filippi from WICU12 replied, December 14, 2018 at 2:33 p.m.

    Pam Livolsi!    LOVE IT!

  9. Pam Livolsi from Media Intelligence, December 14, 2018 at 7:49 p.m.

    Ed, I appreciate your optimism that eventually enhancements will emerge.  Right now I see lots of destruction and not too many people interested in challenging the murkiness. But I hold out hope and keep asking tough questions!  You definitely do your part to bring truth to the industry.  Thanks. 

  10. Maarten Albarda from Flock Associates (USA), December 15, 2018 at 1:54 p.m.

    Dave: could not agree more. My prediction that the media buyer profession would have been culled already in 2018 has proven to be too optimistic/pessimistic... but it is going to go that way. I wrote about that in November of 2016 if you want to have a laugh at my prediction...

  11. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, December 16, 2018 at 8:12 p.m.

    Maarten, I would guess that only a few hundred national TV time buyers place 90% of the national TV ad dollars so it's hard to see how this rather small group is going to be decimated by the assumed advent of computer assisted time buying. This is especially so as there are few signs that major TV advertisers have any intention of abandoning the upfront corporate buying system. Also, if the advertisers ever go to brand by brand buying in order to reap the hoped for benefits of better targeting techniques, the number of negotiations---all of which will need human involvement and client approval---will increase 20-fold. This will, in my opinion, require more, not fewe,r people on both the selling and buying side to handle. I believe that Dave is correct in saying that what will be needed are new types of sellers and buyers---both trained in new disciplines and able to utilize the computerized analysis systems, once the bugs in them are worked out. But first, we need to get to the point where brands buy their own media, not as part of a corporate umbrella. We aren't there yet---except for some scatter buys and single brand advertisers who haven't gotten caught up in the corporate, low CPM trap.

  12. Pam Livolsi from Media Intelligence replied, December 17, 2018 at 12:06 p.m.

    Dave, I'm from western PA too.  I get it.  When economic disruption is all over the place, we need to prepare.  I just think, from a spot TV standpoint, you're calling out the wrong TV folks, with the wrong message about digital, for reasons created by a manufactured problem of their own making. 

    The TV folks you should talk to are at the station group ownership level (Sinclair, Nexstar, etc.).  The message should be about sharpening their knowledge of how advertising works and the law-like principles that drive it using evidence that is now readily available...that reach is the key to growth and spot TV is still the powerhouse in delivering more of it in an average quarter hour, day and week.  Not only because of the big raw audience numbers across the largest geography, but also because of its accountability to 3rd party measurement and real human audience delivery.  When comparing a digital product and spot TV against a list of 20 variables, spot TV puts digital to shame...even when it comes to targeting (see Nielsen Five Keys to Advertising Effectiveness report).  Spot TV is still a local and regional brand's lifeline for growth and good local TV sales folks know this.  They resent being forced to sell digital products that come from top-down "corporate" dictates because they're put in the position to justify aspects of digital that would never be tolerated when selling TV.  They also resent that corporate is inevitably cannibalizing TV  and the idea of automating TV sales will only make it worse.  The algorithms won't likely be programmed towards abstract ideas about TV that a good salesperson can communicate.  

    Corporate TV groups' ownership appears to be manufacturing "the inevitable" and I'm not sure if it's stupidity or greed for commissions on digital products.  Instead of caving to this manufactured "inevitable" and calling for TV folks to learn digital skills so they'll avoid the same fate as Western PA industrial workers, how about calling for corporate TV folks to get back to selling local TV with evidence-based sales pitches?   After all, Sinclair should now see how important it is to maintain a strong opposing medium that can challenge a digital brush fire such as the one they got caught in that killed their Tribune deal.  I think we would all be wise to keep the business of spot TV strong.   

  13. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia replied, December 17, 2018 at 1:14 p.m.

    Very good points Pam. I do believe that truly local TV companies and spot sellers could help delay some of what is coming, but the point I was trying to make it my columns is broad and all-inclusive. If someone is in a role that is entirley or primarily focused on selling/buying/marketing/measuring TV ads, their job is in jeapordy. Yes. Truly local companies can do some things that national ones can't, but don't forget that Google and Facebook (and Craig's List, Yahoo! and Aol before them) totally undermined the market positions of the local print ad companies (yellow pages, newspapers, shoppers, going out guides). They were big targets because they used great salespersonship to sell their ads at premium CPM's and didn't have deep data and analytics to back up their sales. That is similar to where local TV is today. I do fear that as automated, data-driven systems come into TV and premium digital video and OTT and OTA, folks supporting the local spot market will be hit at a signficant rate. Not because they don't add tons of value, but because they won't have enough legs on their stool. In my view, al local media companies and agencies need to restructure themselves as multi-channel local marketing services companies and use data and technology to buy/rep and repackage all different types of local media and promotion for sale to local, retional and natoinal marketers. There is no question that algorythms and automation can never do what smart, creative local talent can do, but smart, creative local talent without algorythms and automation will be bringing a knife to a gun fight.

  14. dorothy higgins from Mediabrands WW, December 17, 2018 at 1:58 p.m.

    This is too generic to be the least bit useful.  Specifically what skills are needed? Where do they fit in the program development process? What discipline areas today are most vulnerable to replacement and how? What do you mean by digital anyway? I am not clear what purpose this proclamation serves. 

  15. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia replied, December 17, 2018 at 3 p.m.

    Excellent questions Dorothy. I emphasize "digital" because the digitization of media production, delivery, ad activation, measurement, optimization and attribution (even in non-addressable) media have contriburted a lot to the disruption in the media world today. Here are five top of mind specific suggestions for peoole working in the TV ad industry to be better prepared for industry consolidation pressures:
    1. Complete IAB digital cmedia sales ertification.
    2. Complete a Laredo Group course in Digital Media or Digital Sales Training.
    3. Complete a skillshare course in Ruby o Rails, Python, or R.
    4. Work toward a masters' degree in data analytics.
    5. Take/audit a digtial media or marketing masters level course at a local college (like John Durham's course at USF or Bob Desena's at NYU).

  16. Chris Williams from ACA replied, December 17, 2018 at 3:52 p.m.

    Here's another way to tackle digital media skills. 
    1. Setup a business trying to sell something online.
    2. Get a Google, FB, YT, Twitter, Mailchimp ... on and on account
    3. Spend about $100 on each platform trying to make it work to sell 
    4. spend a lot reading blogs figuring out the metrics and trying to be profitable
    5. start wondering what local traditional media would look like if it was available through similiar interfaces

    total cost - under $1000 

  17. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia replied, December 17, 2018 at 3:58 p.m.

    Love it Chris! Excellent, super practical suggestion.

  18. Pam Livolsi from Media Intelligence, December 17, 2018 at 4:07 p.m.

    Dave, thanks for clarifying.  I think the disconnect with me is the focus on acquiring skills and technology as the priority because they're execution focused.  I see gaining knowledge of how media works as the priority.  For example, how audiences cume at different rates and amounts, what each platform's Pareto distribution of usage is,  how to interpret time spent, why using percentages is dangerous since universe numbers vary, how to account for duplication and on and on.  As Erwin Ephron once said, media folks were always the nano-technologists...the ones that get down to the nitty-gritty.  Right now at the local level, everyone "does digital" and finds ways to execute.  Very few can design a solid integrated plan that grows a client's business.  I would focus on knowledge first if someone wants to be in demand.   Thanks for hearing me out on this.  

  19. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, December 17, 2018 at 6:34 p.m.

    Looking at Dave's list of digital skills and education that he recommends for TV ad folks I find it hard to see anyone but entry level types undergoing such training---certainly not the pros now at work in buying and selling TV time---assuming that these repreasent the majority of "TV ad  folks". Or do they? What about the creatives who fashion ad campaigns or the CMOs and marketing or brand managers whose ad dollars are in play? Must they, too, be trained in such a technical fashion. Indeed, would they even consider submitting to such training? Also, what good is technical training when there is no companion effort to educate ourselves about advertising and marketing, to say nothing about the fine points of media planning? Basically nothing of the sort exists at most companies because the media fumction is, largely isolated and, sadly, is not considered to be the decisive one at many advertisers. Is it reasonable to take TV time buyers and sellers, plus CMOs,brand managers, media planners and creatives and make them all proficfient in digital technology disciplines without first integrating media, creative and marketing at all levels? In other words, must all car buyers be skilled mechanics too? Just thinking---or rethinking---what we are talking about here.

  20. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia replied, December 17, 2018 at 9:02 p.m.

    Ed, very good points. I will add:
    6. Read "How Brands Grow" by Bryon Sharp, and take a self-adminitrered test on comprehension. The idea that getting a maters degree in data analytics or an IAB certification is "below" long-time professinals in the TV ad business is exactly the kind of hubris that will lose hundreeds and thousands jobs. I can't say it any plainer.

  21. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia replied, December 18, 2018 at 8:34 a.m.

    Ed, I meant to also respond to your core point about the problem with the isolation of the media function within marketing organizations. You are 100% on target there, and that may be the biggest contributor of the overly silo'd focus of media sales organizations, since they have been built out to mirror how the clients and agencies are organized. It is certainly a major factor in why the skill sets of folks working in such channel-centric roles and organizations are mypiic inn their understanding of the bigger marketing and media picture (and why they are vulnterable to losing their jobs right now).

  22. Long Ellis from Tetra TV, December 19, 2018 at 4:04 p.m.

    It is quite amusing thinking about all the "digital" companies who have tried to automate or enhance linear TV and have failed. So many companies think TV is just like digital, so they develop a digital approach that completely ignores the critical nuances of the TV business.

    The mistakes have been in many different areas. Transactional models that put the TV sellers at a disadvantage. Approaches that purposely bypass the agencies and create distrust, resulting in an extremely motivated group that will do almost anything to protect their business model. Attempts to take the most powerful reach medium and turn it into a mico-targeting platform, thus taking away the one attribute that makes national TV so valuable. 

    There have been the managed services that do not scale and are then discarded for saas enabled platforms. Mistake after mistake after mistake, burning tons of VC money and disrupting people's lives rather than producing a disruptive approach that actually makes TV better. 

    Some companies have actually hired a few of these so called, "TV dinosaurs" to help them break into the businss, only to lay them off because the company leaders did not understand how the TV business works and the dynamics of how agencies, advertisers and TV networks play ball. One, two or three TV people can't change the direction of an entire company when the leaders are so wrapped up in their own theories and approaches that they just won't listen. 

    IMHO, only TV people understand TV well enough to be able to dramatically improve how it all works. Beware of companies who do not have high level employees with significant TV experience. If you track their mistakes, their unsucessful pivots and the amount of money they have poured down the drain, you will get a much better picture of their competency in this area. 

  23. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, December 19, 2018 at 5:06 p.m.

    Well said, Long.

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