Mr. Marans: As long as the Nielsen data is the currency for making decisions, for buying and selling, and as long as there is nothing from the company saying anything's wrong, we are going to accept it as a fact of life.
On one hand, there are certain aspects of the last few months that make sense that there might well be a decline. In much of the U.S. the weather was warmer than usual. I understand that Blockbuster had a fairly good quarter, as other video stores did. The Internet's allegedly growing, the measurements indicate. So, why wouldn't there be a relatively small, but unusual decline? It's very plausible. Particularly, if you [asked me] which age group might have a decline, I would say probably people in their 20's would be the ones you might expect. The only thing that concerns me about it is seeing if it's a sustained trend. If it's not, then I might be a little bit worried. Hmm, why now? Why did it last?
AA: Are you also worried if it is a sustained trend?
Mr. Marans: No, it doesn't matter for J. Walter Thompson, and I assume all buyers of media. We're supposed to just follow the audience, whatever they do or wherever they go -- it's not that important to us.
AA: But do you know where they're going?
Mr. Marans: I'm going to defer to Kate on that one.
Ms. Lynch: I believe it's a real change in people's behavior. Some of the programming that's been on over the past few months is not attractive to the audience. And people are doing things differently now. A lot of people are using the Internet for news gathering, for entertainment, information and for sports. If you look at the increase in usage of those sites and visits to those sites, by either heavy print users or heavy TV viewers, it's a real change.
AA: But do you actually have any correlation, any studies that you've done that verifies the decline?
Ms. Lynch: No, we haven't done it with TV viewing. We've done it with print readership and MRI data. It's not panel data, so it's not completely checkable. But it makes sense. I only really have the need for lots and lots of details research if things don't seem to make sense. If the research backs up what you feel to be happening in the marketplace, then it's fine. It just makes sense.
AA: If this decline is real, should buyers look to other types of media for that target audience?
Ms. Lynch: The planners are doing that already. We've seen a significant increase in the use of the Web by a lot of accounts we work on, and you just do different things on TV. There's lots of places to reach 18-34's and 18-49's on TV. It's just not in such big numbers as before in the main places.
AA: David Poltrack?
Mr. Poltrack: If you look at the lifestyle situations, I think Kate's right, There are logical reasons to expect that 18- to 34-year-old viewing is down, and it probably is. The issue is to the extent that it is down that the total loss we're seeing is a function only of lifestyle change. And the problem is it happened too quickly, too dramatically to be totally the result of this phenomenon. This is a long term phenomenon. It's gone on for several years, I expect it to continue to go on. The issue that we have is all the work we have seen focuses on the fact that in-tab rates do exacerbate the situation. The people who are out-of-tab in low 'in-tap' periods are heavier viewers, particularly in the young categories. Therefore, there is an artificial inflation of this rate of decline when in-tab rates fall below normal levels.
AA: David Marans, do you agree?
Mr. Marans: The data has shown that there's a problem and it's exacerbated. The thing is how much would that affect the overall number -- 1% or 2% out of the 6% or 7%? We don't really care whether the numbers are high or low, we just expect them to be accurate.
Mr. Cook: First, let me point out that 18-34 adult viewing in late night is increasing. So, it isn't as though they're abandoning the TV medium. There are changes going on in both directions, more so in the direction of reduced viewing in most day parts. But it isn't as though it's some sort of universal phenomenon that you can pin on a methodological thing. There's probably some small relationship between "in-tab" and the reported levels of the in-tab sample. But it doesn't gel as the explanation for what's going on here.
The other thing, though, is that it was a wake-up call that there's been a big drop versus last year. And that wake-up call was really set by cocking the trigger last year, and having an unusual increase last year. If you look at the trend over seven years, the one year that stands out is last year. Viewing was down every year except last year.
AA: So what do you think was going on last year?
Mr. Cook: Don't know yet. One of the things we're doing is to zero in on that, because it's a fact of life that we don't get as many questions about numbers