Viewers Watch TV Programs, Not Networks

Viewpoint: Syndicated Network Television Association President Mitch Burg

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Mitch Burg
Mitch Burg

In today's challenging economic times, TV is a proven medium that enables marketers to best accomplish their goals. TV continues to evolve by providing emerging communication solutions that recognize new metrics, changing viewership patterns and technological change.

With all the focus on the upfront, it's important to remember that viewers watch programs, not networks. We've gone from the era of program ratings to average commercial viewership and are on our way to specific-commercial audience at some point. TV's move into commercial ratings (C3 for most) is less than a year old, and it's more than just a change of metric. Because top-rated programs are often time-shifted, they are likely to become less valuable, as commercial avoidance in DVR playback is the rule, not the exception.

It's interesting to note that strip programs, such as those found in syndication and on late-night network TV, have high live viewership and lower commercial avoidance. Perhaps this perspective makes NBC's moving Jay Leno to 10 p.m. weeknights look a little stronger in the light of commercial viewership.

The use of average commercial ratings makes program formatting even more important. We've learned that commercials positioned in the first commercial minute generally deliver more program viewers to your messages. As we've all assumed, long pods chase viewers away, while short pods retain audience and reward marketers with higher recall and involvement with their commercials.

Fox's 2008 Remote Free TV research demonstrated that short pods positively impact ad attention, ad likeability, ad engagement and unaided recall. While the network will not extend its reduced-pod-length format next broadcast season, 60-second, low-clutter, high-impact opportunities exist elsewhere within national TV and amazingly at no cost premium.

The 30-second commercial and its sibling the 15-second spot are far from dead. Numerous studies from the Advertising Research Foundation and Marketing Media Analytics show that TV is the best way to drive results. Multiplatform integrations are a new powerful cousin that can bring even better results. Viewers follow their favorite content across media options, and these multiplatform integrations allow them to access this content across new applications to broadband and mobile video, transactional microsites, database, newsletters, and more. The results can be amazing, and together with marketers, we'll be executing even better ideas moving forward.

The time of the upfront presentations is upon us. We've all read a tremendous amount of articles on how it will be conducted, and let me suggest that we're not seeing that much that is new. They've talked to pricing, the need for flexibility (not a new thought during tougher economic times) and the timing of the marketplace. We will read about new programming and ask ourselves if this is the next "American Idol" or just another show that we might include in a buy or watch ourselves. Will the next new cable first run be the first to have a really significant rating or will it be a slightly larger than average cable audience at a higher CPM?

Mitch Burg is president of the Syndicated Network Television Association.

Let me suggest that we also look at programming schedules from the perspective of consumer impact. Will the shows be relevant to our true target audiences -- you know, the ones that are later defined by gender/age demography? Will they provide an enhanced level of trust and influence necessary during this period of lower consumer confidence? Will they be lost in pods so long that they almost force you to channel-surf away? Is the show important enough that the viewers want to see it when it airs or will they defer viewing so that they can avoid the messages that you've labored so hard over?

The upfront will happen at some point in the next several months. Articles will speculate about pricing and lead us to further contemplate who placed the information and what this posturing is intended to accomplish. There are expanding options and fewer people to handle a complex world. Buys will be negotiated conceptually, presented and finalized; contracts will be issued; and everyone will beat the pricing article published at the end of the upfront.

We will all groan about articles referring to cold pizza and ask ourselves, "Why pizza?" and "Why does it have to be cold?" Eventually, we will learn about some really cool deals with great insights that drive client business. They emerge each year, and we are awed and envious of these examples of leadership thinking.

While challenging times create uncertainty, they create opportunity as well. We need to analyze what we've been doing, consider where we're going, understand how the world is changing and make the moves that build results.

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