TV Budgets Shifting to Social? Yes, It's Time to Worry

The Growing Video Businesses of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat Pose a Viable Alternative to TV

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It's that time of year again, when the TV networks talk about how great their upcoming fall shows will be -- and everyone else talks about whether they will survive the relentless onslaught of OTT, cord-cutting and myriad other challenges.

Social media is one of those challenges. Companies like Facebook have never been shy about touting themselves as excellent companions to TV. They routinely conduct research studies that show lifts in seemingly every metric imaginable, as long as ad buyers use TV and social together.

But this year, eMarketer believes the conversation about social and TV will change. For buyers who want the best way to reach their audience, the growing video businesses of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat now present a viable alternative to TV.

Before I go on, it's important to say this: It's not as if vast sums of money will shift from TV to social this year -- or even next year. This year, $70.6 billion will be spent on TV advertising in the US, according to eMarketer. Investment bank Cowen and Co. predicts Facebook's video ad revenue will be roughly $2 billion worldwide this year. So we're talking about a relative trickle right now. But the trickle can very easily become a strong flow.

Several factors lead me to this conclusion:

The broad availability of video ads on social platforms. In the two short years since Facebook rolled out premium in-feed video ads, other social platforms have followed suit with their own video ad products. And the inventory keeps expanding; this week, Facebook said it would start selling in-feed and in-article video ads on properties that are part of its third-party ad network.

The TV-like reach and appealing demographics that some platforms offer. Companies like Snapchat and Facebook routinely compare their audience to TV. Snapchat, for example, has touted the fact that up to eight times as many 13- to 34-year-olds in the U.S. view Live Stories versus TV for similar events. And Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg once famously compared Facebook's reach to the Super Bowl.

In comScore Video Metrix's tally of the top 10 U.S. online video properties, Facebook had 83.3 million unique viewers as of March 2016. Although that was well behind Google's 182.2 million, Facebook ranked higher than many other well-known TV properties, including Comcast NBCUniversal, ABC Digital and CBS Interactive.

Advertisers' increasing willingness to use TV dollars for digital campaigns. RBC and Advertising Age have found that the percentage of marketers using TV ad dollars as a source of funding for digital campaigns is on the rise. In February 2016, 40% of respondents said they were doing so, up from 37% in September 2015.

Measurement and ad-buying tools that mirror those used by TV buyers. All four major social platforms have agreements to use Nielsen data to help measure and verify video-ad performance. And TRP buying, introduced by Facebook last year and soon to arrive on Twitter, brings a familiar method of buying TV into the social realm.

The push for live streaming. One of the last bastions of sure TV ratings success -- and loads of brand advertising revenue -- has been live events. While no one expects the number of people who want to watch an NFL game on Twitter to surpass the game's TV audience, the mere fact that social platforms want to get into this arena shows that they are serious about going after TV dollars.

The growing importance of social video for advertisers. "Video will be playing a central role for us on social in 2016, based on the level of engagement and positive brand lift that we saw with the video campaigns that we ran in 2015," Linda Duncombe, global head of digital, social and content marketing at Citi, said in my new eMarketer report "Video Ads in Social Media: With a Full Slate of Ad Products, the Social Properties Take Aim At TV."

Brands like Citi have come to realize that the traditional way of thinking about video -- as merely a 30- or 60-second TV spot -- is outdated. Consumers are spending more time with feed-based social platforms and are growing comfortable with watching video on a mobile device.

And advertisers are increasingly putting their money where they know they can definitely find their audience. TV's imprecise measurement stands squarely in the way of that.

"It requires balancing the total media budget to reach consumers in the most effective way," Tina Mahal, vice president of innovation at Frito-Lay, told us. "It doesn't necessarily require an additional investment -- it just requires making smarter choices so that the brand is where the consumer is."

As video on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat continues to grow, the ad dollars will follow -- especially if the social properties can show without a doubt that advertisers really can find their audience there.

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