In what may be the biggest bellwether for this shift, Publicis Groupe's MediaVest, which buys for giants like Procter & Gamble Co., announced this month that it's rechristening its TV-buying teams as "video investment and activation units." That reorganization, which puts digital experts alongside its broadcast buyers, is one of the most decisive acknowledgments of the zeitgeist-even in an era of big statements and bold claims, where every ad agency is trying to structure itself to produce more digital content and escape the box of the 30-second-spot.
On the marketer side, American Express Co. is lumping TV into a rather unglamorous-sounding category called "rolling video stock," which also includes cinema, pre-roll online video, podcasts. Yes, there's a great deal of talk about "video-neutrality"-and the AmEx nomenclature may have some worried about a day when it's all ones and zeroes-but this isn't just ivory-tower palaver.
Changing the terms of discourse, after all, acknowledges a changing reality, not only in how agencies are organized but also in how the work of reaching consumers has been upended. "Broadcast is not dying; broadcast still works," said Donna Speciale, president-U.S. broadcast and programming at MediaVest. "But we have to follow the consumer to where he or she is getting content and that means being video-neutral."
"Whenever I hear the word 'broadcast,' I try to dump it," said David Rolfe, senior VP-director of branded production at Omnicom Group's DDB, Chicago, one of the many Madison Avenue giants trying to broaden its palette. "It's a grotesque anachronism that implies the model where we're just feeding viewers whatever we want them to have."
Sure, we've known for years that the era of interruption marketing is giving way to one of consumer control, wresting power away from the traditional content-providers who, before the rise of cable TV and the Internet, had a guaranteed captive audience of tens of millions. So if media fragmentation and consumer control is nothing new, what is?
Networks rush to digital
What's different these days is that the media companies, having shaken off their post-dot-com bust hangover are jumping back on the digital bandwagon. You've got ABC and NBC distributing hit TV shows like "Lost," "Desperate Housewives" and "The Office" on iTunes and CBS broadcasting the NCAA basketball tournament over the Internet. And, as the upfront season approaches, every company is buffing up its digital strategy. Observers expect more and more layered video deals that add to broadcast, especially platforms like broadband and video on demand.
The heightened activity on the part of media sellers of the last year is what led MediaVest, which seven years ago was rebranded from TeleVest to reflect the reality of media world beyond TV, to make its change when it did.
"We've been thinking about this for at least a year, but we didn't have the media partners to do it," said Brian Terkelsen, senior VP-director of entertainment marketing at Media-Vest, whose unit reports to Ms. Speciale. "It's as if they woke up from deep sleep and ... running the New York City marathon right now. They're not even cutting their teeth on a 10K."
The creative agencies will be instrumental in pushing that innovation further, as they work to devise commercial messaging forms for the dimensions of a video-neutral world-not just chopping up a 30-second spot and cramming it into a two-inch screen.
Since joining DDB last year, Mr. Rolfe has been working to do just that. For instance, he's been trying to breathe some interactive, non-TV life into the Ted Ferguson idea for Anheuser-Busch's Bud Light with online work and with various events, a documentary and even a comedy show-all ways of meeting consumers on their own terms.
"Marketers have long thought they have that control to dictate when and where they'd reach viewers," he said. "They just can't assume that anymore."
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Abbey Klaassen contributed to this report.