Commentary

Why Television Reach Is Poised To Strike Out

When I sat down with Zenith Media chief Lauren Hanrahan earlier this week we discussed a wide range of issues impacting media planning and buying, some of which may be part of future columns, but her response to an explicit question begins with this one:

"What is the next most disruptive thing that will impact media planning and buying?," I asked.

"The strike," she replied.

What the ultimate impact might be, Hanrahan couldn't say, but she said it likely will not just be a short-term shift in the underlying value of linear TV viewing -- and perhaps more importantly, reach -- but probably will be part of a more fundamental longer-term shift.

Coming on the heels of other shifts contributing to linear TV disruption -- the shift of viewing to OTT, CTV and subscription streaming services, as well as related TV cord-cutting, the emergence of ad-supported streaming models and the explosion of free, ad-supported video-on-demand services -- the Hollywood writers' and actors' strike could be, well, linear TV reach's last one.

I was planning to write about Hanrahan's observations anyway, but then I received a copy of some very topical new consumer research from Pierre Bouvard, chief insights officer of radio giant Cumulus Media | Westwood One, so I'm breaking that news today.

Keep in mind that the research -- a study of 1,003 U.S. adults conducted by MARU/Matchbox August 25-28 -- is 100% self-reported, so it is impossible to know how it correlates with any actual changes in consumer media usage, but the top line finding doesn't bode well for television reach this fall.

Asked whether they planned to increase, decrease or keep their TV viewing the same this fall, a net 27% of linear TV viewers who said they were aware of the strike plan to watch less TV as a result of it.

Among heavy TV viewers -- the ones accounting for the lion's share of television's audience impressions -- a net 22% said they plan to watch less linear TV this fall because of the strike.

"Do I think it's going to be 22%? No, but I think it's going to be a couple of percentage points of [households using television] or [persons using television] possibly," Bouvard said when I asked him how the self-reported data might correlate with actual shifts in viewing behavior.

In other words, the Hollywood strike is likely to exacerbate a shift that has already been underway, and the only questions are: Will linear TV reach ever bounce back, and if not, where is it going to?

Not so coincidentally, Bouvard asked Americans that question too. And while those responses also are self-reported -- and not necessarily predictive of actual shifts in media usage -- the biggest beneficiaries in terms of time spent doing other things will be streaming services (92% citing), podcasts/radio (68%), time with friends and family (56%), theatrical movies (48%) or spending more time outdoors (44%).

Needless to say, I asked Bouvard why he didn't ask Americans how it might impact their use of other media -- other forms of digital and analog content, etc. -- and he said it was because he wanted to focus on what the most likely impact of TV viewing displacement would be.

"This is mostly a video discussion," he explained. "It's about what people are going to do when they sit down on their couch and flip through channels this fall."

3 comments about "Why Television Reach Is Poised To Strike Out".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, September 15, 2023 at 12:38 p.m.

    Joe, the strike is impacting mostly those prime time shows that are "scripted", not most reality shows or the newsmags or sports or specials. Nor is it affecting the early AM, news or late night fare or daytime shows or the weekend stuff. So we are probably talking aout 20% of the broadcast TV network's total viewership. If this were to decline by 30% due to the decline in quality that would produce a net loss of only 6% in average minute ratings---over and above normal attrition caused  by rating fragmentation, cord cutting, etc.

    Also, the total GRPs to be delivered by the sellers in most deals is guaranteed, so if there is an unexpected shortfall, the seller has to make it up. In other words, the buyers will still get exactly what they were promised---so why is  the reach of their  buys threatened? The make good spots in prime time also contribute to reach. And most buys are not confined to broadcast TV network dramas and sitcoms---they involve other program genres as well as other dayparts  and other forms of TV---cable and streaming. The strike may affect certain sellers re the performance of their scripted prime time shows, but that's about all---in my humble opinion.

  2. William Chambers from a4 Advertising replied, September 15, 2023 at 1:55 p.m.

    Thank you Mr. Papazian.  Excellent and astute insights as always.

  3. Darrin Stephens from McMann & Tate, September 15, 2023 at 2:08 p.m.

    Um, all the "late night fare" (except Nightline) has been in reruns since the strike started.

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