Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Let's ban the word Television - epilogue

Even though I was going to tackle some other thorny subjects as the new year starts, I must one more time come back to what has become my most read and shared TV posts from 2012 (if you missed them, part 1 is here, and part 2 is here).

The reason I wanted to add this epilogue is that a good friend and much admired thinker sent me some really interesting comments and I wanted to share them with you.

Alex Bicknell is a marketing and connections strategist whom I have come to admire a great deal. He runs his own consultancy Tommorw:AM. From the website this is what they offer: 

Tomorrow:AM is an entrepreneur implant – injecting urgency, accountability and passion into marketing. 
  • Consumer driven thinking to deliver better, faster. 
  • Business issue to creative marketing strategy: non-stop. 
  • Focus where it matters.

I have worked with Alex over the last three+ years to design and deliver the Anheuser-Busch InBev way of Marketing, and specifically Connection Planning, and along the way I learned a great deal from Alex.

I share with you his comments, and add to them my own replies/POV:

A: I like your imperative to ban the word "Television". Most media terminology is obsolete, in my opinion. Chez Bicknell (by no means early adopters on this type of thing), we've finally switched to cable about 3 months ago (though as you observe, we haven't bothered to use the TV-as-internet-access features at all, because we don't need to, and our other devices all have much faster processors). 

As a result we watch most of our programmes recorded and simply skip the ads. Even when watching "live" TV, we tend to pause it occasionally (to do something very English, like make a cup of tea). By the time the ad breaks come we are watching with enough delay that we can simply skip forward through them. I reckon our exposure to TV ads has dropped at least 90%. If I was buying media in a market like the UK I'd be seriously considering giving up on broadcast TV entirely. I wonder whether "pre roll" online video is a solution, or a stop gap. Will it avoid being skippable, as technology matures?

M: when the remote control came out, and its use became widespread there was a real fear that TV commercials were going to be skipped as a result of zapping. The reality turned out to be much less dramatic, but it certainly had an effect.

Then the video recorder came and again there was widespread fear that programs were going to be recorded and ads were going to be skipped. The reality was not so dramatic, which was more due to the inadequate and cumbersome technology rather than people wanting to skip ads.

And then came the DVR...

Now that most homes in developed markets are DVR-ed, we have a much more powerful tool to skip adds: the digitally enhanced fast-forward. And there is an even more aggressive option, which is the one offered in the US by satellite TV distributor Dish Network. 

Satellite used to be able to deliver far more channels into homes vs. TV at similar cost as compared to cable. But as digital cable took hold, this advantage all but disappeared. So Dish needed something new to retain and gain customers (who were leaving their service in favor of cable) and what better way than killing the very revenue source that allows the programs to be made in the first place…

The Dish DVR is called Hopper, which offers the Auto Hop service. If enabled it will skip ads and if you use it, this is how it will offer that to you:

Obviously not a good thing for advertisers, and a great many networks are suing Dish for offering the service. And cable operators TimeWarner and Comcast have filed patents for technology that actually prevents consumers from doing exactly what is done at Chez Bicknell (and Chez Albarda as well), which is the fast forwarding through pre-recorded or paused programs.

What is interesting is that a search on the mighty Google yields no results in terms of how big (or small) the ad skipping problem really is. I found some seriously out-of-date numbers for TIVO when it was the hot new thing back in 2008 but nothing more recent.

Should advertisers follow the networks and sue? Or should we just shrug and find better video connection opportunities that consumers won’t (or can’t) skip? I suggest the latter in my previous TV posts.

Alex addresses this as well:

A: It'll be interesting to see what happens to creative content if media spend disappears. Who pays for production? I've argued since Napster that some creative industries - music and books are obvious examples - will flourish even if no-one can make money out of copyright any more.

Artists will learn to make money through different offers (live music, for example). And anyway, most really great music and literature is driven by the creativity - written in back rooms and recorded in the garage.

There's no evidence we get better stuff from "established" acts and authors (arguably the reverse - new acts and authors are fresher), and while the publishing business is crucial for sharpening quality through editing, there's no evidence it adds any value in the process of promoting, distributing etc that can't be replaced by social media.

And there's no evidence it depends on a small number of "star" acts. No evidence that a great industry in terms of content production has to be one in which the likes of JK Rowling and Adele get spectacularly rich. Crucially, there's low cost of production.

For movies and TV the same can't hold. Maybe films can monetize through merchandising? Otherwise, what else? Product placement?

M: these are all incredibly valid points and questions, some of which are beginning to answer themselves. I mentioned the YouTube channels, which are a self-selecting eco-system in that if you are capable of delivering content and an audience on an on-going basis, you have yourself a source of ad-revenue (by sharing in YouTube’s revenue).

Then there is Mobcaster, the Kickstarter for TV content. And all of this content is finding its way into our living room through smart TV’s (once we finally hook them up…) and other screens.

In the music industry there is PledgeMusic, a similar initiative where artists get pre-paid by basically selling their CD’s/downloads before they are even released. In the book industry there is the boom in self-publishing; an area where Guy Kawasaki has been very vocal and eloquent (as well as giving you a complete free tutorial in self publishing).

The one area where there still seems to be a struggle is in news/journalism. No doubt that citizen-journalism is carving out a place but “real” journalism costs time and money. To date it seems that the old journalism model is slowly falling apart (the demise of Newsweek), but newer models have not really been successful in replacing the significant ad dollars needed to fund high-end journalism. I have no doubt though that smart people with disruptive minds (like FlipBoard?) will find a model here, too.

What is interesting is that most of these models rely on people paying a participation fee or subscription. Does that mean that advertising is becoming less important as a source of revenue for content creators?

Thank you, Alex, for prompting all these additional thoughts. One thing is certain: we can trust the always insightful Albert Einstein, who said “I never think of the future - it comes soon enough.” 


  1. This is always a good read for a sometimes needed sense of perspective.

  2. Brian: thanks for adding perspective. But... the shift is happening: if I can reach 53% of the US population with an online video ad it is time to acknowledge it as a mass medium, which is far superior to the spray paint approach that is TV.

    I know I am preaching to the converted, but it simply does not do to dismiss/poo-poo online video as marginal (which is the gist of the link you shared). Here are some up-to-date numbers:

    And on top of the absolute numbers, there are the added benefits as mentioned:

    - far greater specificity in targeting
    - far greater cost effectiveness
    - a real opportunity for outreach and response (more so than any red button can offer)
    - a far more engaging and "current" way of connecting with especially young adults (5 - 35)

  3. One further comment as I just ran across a presentation from Nielsen USA on the time spent with various screens:

    On slide 6, it lists how people watch and it makes (again) the point that for a younger audience, TV time is lagging.

    Weekly Time Spent in Hours:Minutes – By Age Demographic for Entire US Population:

    - total time spent on traditional TV, total pop: 32:15
    - total time spent on traditional TV, Age 12-17: 22:33
    - total time spent on traditional TV, Age 18-24: 21:59
    - total time spent on traditional TV, Age 25-34: 27:15

    1. Maarten

      Many thanks for publishing Part 1, Part 2 and the Epilogue - a great overview for everyone in the industry. Online Video is still marginal but emerging rapidly and for our clients the wider Paid Owned Earned, interactive engagement, addressability and touchpoints across key stages of the consumers' purchase pathway is the 'end game' (as you well know).

      One change that I am starting to see are increased "actual connection" rates of Smart TVs, and ROKU/Apple TV/GoogleTV type devices, and the emergence of new connectors (e.g. USB stix).

      You quote and use some great bits of recent research, but if only the industry's audience measurement world could act as fast (and together) as the technology develops. We have too many questions we can't answer, too many channel silos & vested interests, and a long way to go to get to even the WFA's holidstic media vision of 5 years ago, let alone just being able to measure TV+Video with accurate, consistent metrics.

    2. Simon: thanks a lot (and nice to "see" you!).

      Could not agree more. It is fascinating to see that the data and measurement options seem to be evolving everyday, yet the industry seems more overwhelmed as to how to deal with it.

      In the past we wanted more data and knowledge because we knew so little, and now that we are getting there, we seem to be even more paralyzed as an industry to align and act.

      Or could it be that some of the parties with vested interests actually don't want to know more? (that is the cynic inside me speaking of course).