It's Not a Video Revolution -- It's a TV Evolution

The Advertising Business Needs to Change Its Definition of TV

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The more ways in which people can engage with TV content, the more time and attention they pay to it. Networks have kept pace with technological changes, extending programming across digital formats to let viewers watch wherever, however and whenever they want. And, increasingly, they're choosing to do that on smartphones and tablets. All the stats on time-shifting and streaming point to a significant consumption surge.

Throughout the advertising community, though, people are mistaking the device athleticism and increased streaming for a revolution. Even the lead story in AdAge earlier last week, "Welcome to the Video Revolution," made this leap. While the piece sets forth overall numbers showing the primacy of TV attention -- 149 hours a month across five screens (TV, desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone) -- and mentions that TV "may be growing [its] viewership on desktop computers and mobile devices," it still calls a six-hour monthly decline in conventional TV viewing evidence of a revolution.

That's confusing the device for the content. What's actually happening is an evolution: TV viewers are pursuing their favorite content on the best available device. In doing so, viewers extend TV's reach across today's full range of video-viewing devices and conduits. Netflix attests that more than half of subscribers' viewing time is devoted to premium TV content. Add Amazon Prime, Hulu and other streaming services, and TV has increased both its utility and its exposure.

So advertising needs to change its definition of TV. Consider it professionally produced video content that's available across five screens. Appreciate that it takes lots of money and talent to create and bring to market, which is why TV networks invest nearly 50% of their revenues back into original programming. And recognize that streaming is a valuable contributor to TV audience and brands. The phenomenon of binging has been accurately linked to record-setting premieres for programs and sports events alike.

Besides being significantly profitable for networks, streaming is a great brand-builder for TV. It creates fans, intensifies engagement, and amplifies social network attention as viewers post, share, tweet and comment on TV content from all sources. While many streaming services currently do not support advertising, networks and producers will figure out other ways to loop marketers into these widening audience connections. Remember that TV started with simple "brought to you by" sponsorships, and has evolved to an array of opportunities spanning product placement, direct sponsorships and audience buying. The expanded TV landscape will form the next frontier of creativity in advertising -- from opt-in ads to dynamic ads to ads that aren't ads at all.

TV content fuels the growth engine of American business. It delivers the scale and immediacy that big brands can't build without. Getting a clear picture on all TV viewing is critical to advertisers. The obstacle is a measurement industry that hasn't evolved with viewers' content commitment. Until we have an industry-accepted, single-source measurement for viewing across all platforms, there won't be complete transparency in video, and the full range of connections won't be usable for marketers.

During his career, The New York Times critic John J. O'Connor picked the mid-1970s as his candidate for TV's golden age, because the rising medium was the center of the house and appointment TV series posted gargantuan ratings. But today is the platinum age. There's more great content than ever, and it holds up against an array of competitors for time and attention that pioneering producers could never have imagined. Getting all the attention it captures has never been more important for advertisers.

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