It's Time to Kill the Day-Part in TV Advertising

One Old Media Tradition That Has Mostly Outlived Its Usefulness

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The day-part construct as a primary time slot in the buying, selling and valuing of TV media is obsolete, misleading, damaging and should be dramatically deemphasized.

Today, people consume almost all of their media – even TV – where, when and how they want. The "Leave it to Beaver," "Archie Bunker" and "M*A*S*H" decades, when American families gathered around their living room television sets with their tray tables and TV dinners and watched the same shows at the same time, are gone. Gone too are the days when 70-75% of TV audience viewing took place during the primetime day-part. Which is one reason the soap operas have died a slow death.

In those days, the day-part that a TV spot aired was of essential importance to advertisers. Prime-time spots meant popular shows, enormous audiences and families. Daytime meant those soap operas and housewives. Saturday morning meant kids and cartoons. Overnight meant test patters or infomercials and or movies for insomniacs. In those days, you couldn't watch reruns of your favorite crime drama six times a day, seven days a week. You couldn't watch live news or weather 24 hours a day. You couldn't watch live sports or sports news 24 hours a day seven days a week on dozens of different sports channels. You couldn't delay your viewing for hours or days. Today, you can do all of that and we do.

In the old days, the day-part defined the audience, its scale and its programming for media buying and selling purposes. Within day-parts, there was a lot of consistency and homogeneity of shows and audiences but across day-parts, there were stark differences. Those days are long gone. Current data tells us that day-parts are no longer the primary descriptors of the types of viewers or shows or scale of audiences available on TV today. With the massive fragmentation of audiences across networks, shows, day-parts and devices, the historical notions of the day-part probably deceives more in media than it accurately describes.

For example: Want to reach younger, upscale married households with school-aged children? Network primetime is not the best place to reach them. They can be found in higher concentrations on dozens of cable nets outside of prime, particularly during late-night. Yes! Imagine that . Upscale viewers watching TV late at night. The same for single, working mothers. Seems blasphemous? Don't believe me? Just check Nielsen AudienceWatch. That data doesn't lie.

Given the massive changes in American's lifestyles and TV viewing behaviors, why then does the media industry still think and talk about day-parts the way we did in the 60's, 70's and 80's, beholden to truisms that really haven't been true for more than a decade? History, simplicity, stability, comparability and protection, that 's why.

It starts with history. It's always been done that way. Simplicity follows. It's almost always easier to do what you've done than to do something new. It's stable and comparable. When your business runs in annual cycles, sameness means things stay stable and can easily be compared year over year. It's protective. If you want to keep your job, it's better not to have its core operating metrics change underneath you.

Does any of this sameness truly make TV advertising better for the advertiser? Or the viewer? Or even the networks and media owners? I don't' think so. All it does is perpetuate the over-saturation or irrelevant ads to the wrong audiences in the wrong places.

In a fragmented media world, we have to be willing to challenge our historical contextual truisms. We need to embrace data and empiricism. We need to focus on all elements of TV media placement. The maniacal focus on the day-part is outdated and misplaced. The day-part is just one of a number of factors which define the value of the media and the environment for the placement of a spot. The program matters., so does the network (though much less than it used to). And, of course, the person matters a lot. What the people do (and are doing) on other platforms is important.

Isn't that where everything is going anyway? Networks and buyers count delayed viewing (C3) regardless of when it is viewed. What buyers do you know exclude DVR viewing the next day because it's in the wrong day-part?

And one more reason: Today, many in the TV advertising industry are trying to make the online ad world to adopt some of the core TV metrics, such as Gross Rating Points (GRP) and Reach & Frequency, to create greater cross-media comparability. In that spirit and at this time, isn't this a good time to evaluate whether TV should adopt some of the successful approaches from the online world? How many online advertisers make websites and networks shut their banners off during daytime and late-night day-parts?

What do you think? Isn't it time for the TV ad world to de-emphasize the day-part?

Dave Morgan is CEO and founder of New York-based Simulmedia, a TV ad targeting company. Simulmedia uses data-driven technology to help improve the relevance and results of TV advertising. Follow him on Twitter at
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