The Advertising Reality Show: It's All TV

In advertising and media buying circles, there's much talk about the differences between network, cable, syndication, satellite and, lately, TiVo. Business and trade media have been covering, with provocative headlines, the changing ratings and demos of network vs. cable.

In reality, though, do we know if there is a difference in the effectiveness of a TV ad exposed to a customer or prospect viewing the same program received via either of these different modes? Do we know if an ad in a rerun of, say, "Friends", carries more or less 'selling power' when it is received and viewed via broadcast network, broadcast syndication, cable or satellite?

To the typical viewer, TV is TV. With the possible exception of news, most people do not readily distinguish, nor particularly care, whether a program is coming to them on NBC, MTV, or the local independent station. If it's "Friends" they want to watch, or "ER" or a feature film, they'll find it on their 100-channel cable box.



If the 'value' of the individual exposure to a targeted viewer is comparable across vehicles, then what explains the differences in prices paid for advertising in these various transport modalities?

It is possible that the universal coverage and generally higher average rating size of a broadcast exposure would justify a higher cost based on the likelihood of quicker, higher reach attainment; i.e.,

  • ten five-rated ads that can be seen in 99% of U.S. households may be worth more than
  • fifty one-rated exposures that can be seen in 75% of U.S. homes.

    Certainly current media buying practices would seem to bear this out, with higher prices paid per exposure for network television with its near universal coverage vs. cable with its selective but not quite total coverage. But is this justified? The cable folks would say no, and they may have a point, which they are attempting to make via analysis of available research. Although their conclusions are not self-evident and certainly may be self-serving, syndication is another matter altogether.

    Syndication's coverage and rating size are comparable to network, sometimes even higher. Therefore, what could possibly justify a lower cost per unit of audience for an ad in a syndicated telecast of, say, "King of the Hill", that offers 99% coverage of U.S. homes and a 2.4 Adult 18-49 rating while the same show on Fox is delivering a 2.1 rating?

    It is difficult to find a valid reason why a viewer would perceive an ad differently based on the manner in which it reaches his or her screen. So perhaps there is no difference, at least between broadcast network and syndication. And that is certainly a reality worth capitalizing on in this current challenging media buying climate.

    SNTA represents television program syndicators, whose programs air nationwide on network and independent stations. Syndicated television represents a $2.5 billion advertising marketplace, with more than 130 weekly shows and dozens of specials and feature films. Syndication airs more hours of programming each week than the six networks combined.

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