Log Off: Television's Primal Grip

TV's lure is in preserving the ritual content of our lives

The Super Bowl has just signaled the end of the NFL season. We are about to move into February Sweeps. The big award shows are only weeks away. It's a good time for the tube. Is it 2007 or 1987?

Sadly enough, it's 2007, and the billions of dollars spent on television advertising still make the media investment in the Internet, podcasts, wireless, and all the other "nontraditional" media pale in comparison.

At this point in this article, I should begin to rant against the stupidity and laziness of agencies and marketers, their blindness to media usage trends, and just vent my general frustration at obliviousness to the obvious. However, there are a lot of smart people involved that have chosen to keep spending on television, even with the possibility of wasting precious resources and missing out on getting real results. While conspiracy theories abound, I'm thinking it may be something more basic.

Television is more than just a media outlet; it is one of the tools we use to keep track of the passing of time, and to measure our lives. It not only registers the events of the day, but is also associated with deeply felt cultural and personal moments. Of course it is the content the box brings into our living rooms that carries this burden. But it is a box that has sat in the homes of most Americans for decades.

There is the primal changing of the seasons: autumn comes with football almost exclusively experienced through TV and THE NEW FALL SEASON, after a summer of baseball and reruns. January is marked by the dropping of the ball in Times Square, Super Bowl parties, and now, "American Idol" and "24." Spring brings the awards shows and the interminable interruptions caused by endless NBA and NHL playoffs.

When we talk about Internet marketing to neophytes, we talk about people living online and offline. Even as specialists in interactive, we acknowledge that you can't market to them on just computer screens. There needs to be an offline component. For a very long time we all had been living in front of just one screen, and even now that screen continues to be deeply embedded in our experience.

Kathy, are you saying we are all still spending billions on TV advertising because of our emotional connection to an entertainment appliance? Yes, our experience with television is so powerful that it plays a role in our decisions. No doubt this role will decrease with passing generations, but it is still real and influencing decisions NOW ...

Is this simplistic? A little - but try to think of an experience you've had watching the Internet that is as important to us. "Lonelygirl15" just doesn't cut it. September 11, 2001, was a watershed experience for Americans, and it's the visuals from Ground Zero that haunt us - delivered to most of us over a television. We may have been online that day to send and receive any news we could get, but I would bet that when the majority of us think back, we see images seen on TVs, not computer screens.

The hold TV has over us goes beyond its position as the first box delivering moving images into our homes - although that is at the core. It is found in the nature of the majority of the content it delivers: repetitive, dependable "Must-See TV." That content is structured into our lives. From morning shows to the late-night news, it helps us set our clocks. In essence, the power of television is not based in its ability to deliver the extraordinary - 9/11, the Challenger disaster, the moon walk, O.J.'s White Bronco chase - but in its total integration into our ordinary lives.

Come now, we are all media professionals and should be above our petty emotional attachments.

We know that spending on interactive marketing will not kill television. Supporting the growth of the Internet will not de-structure our lives.

Or will it?

Kathy Sharpe is CEO of Sharpe Partners, which recently launched its own blog, Sharpe Tangent. (;

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