We're Seeing the Evolution of TV, Not Its Decline
We know TV is forever changed. Viewing is fragmented and will continue to splinter, but TV is not in decline. Instead, we have been pivoting from the old TV we consumers cherished, and which we marketers valued, to something even better.
Media consumption and TV viewing are increasingly personal. People watch what they want, when and how they want. From Roku to Apple TV to smart TV apps, streaming (nonlinear viewing) is here to stay, and "watching TV" is less about the device, the living room or the delivery method and more about the content. This is a measurement challenge and opportunity.
A cup-half-empty view of fragmentation frowns over dwindling linear ratings and the challenge this presents to creating broadbased brand awareness. Many are nostalgic for the communal experience of TV's past. Brands have a rich history of using TV commercials to create moments aligned with public consciousness, and the very best created the vaunted watercooler effect.
In an environment where tens of millions of Americans are not necessarily watching the same programs and the same commercials at the same time, it is more difficult for TV to spike omnipresent conversation, but there are alternative mechanisms to amplify commercial messages online.
This is why large-scale live events like the Super Bowl, the Olympics or awards programs have become even more premium. And surely, it was easier to just buy big ratings in days past. But chasing these scarce opportunities is not the only way. We can intelligently segment and activate very specific audiences and then reaggregate them for mass scale. And because smaller audiences are typically less expensive than larger ones, this can be the more cost-efficient and effective path.
Your father's television was about awareness, aspiration and mass brand appeal (which TV still delivers), but now TV can also be used further down the funnel or, as we prefer to call it today, the consumer's path to purchase. With today's technology, fragmentation is a good thing, making video more efficient for reaching the true consumer.
For example, we know car manufacturers have great success addressing TV spots to households with consumers they know to be currently or soon in the market for a new car, thanks to data from Experian, Acxiom and Departments of Motor Vehicles combined with pay-TV distributors' data. And these same data sources plus the marketer's CRM data enable attribution. So the impact of TV can now be measured in ways heretofore impossible.
And soon, cross-device addressability and interactivity will help brands get more interactive with viewers. If you're in the market for a car, tricking out vehicle features while watching a bit of reality TV might be just right for you, but it's important marketers gauge what's additive versus disruptive. Though viewers may not be "leaning back," this doesn't mean they welcome irrelevant intrusion.
Indeed, we are at TV's watershed moment in terms of capabilities and measurement. But seizing these new opportunities is complicated on many levels, including strategy, data and technology.
Marketers must carefully consider the balance of traditional and new, more targeted approaches. To use TV exclusively as a targeted medium is likely a mistake. The risk is smaller market share—and we know no brands aspiring to less share. Consider that if you wait to start marketing a luxury auto to people until they're 40 years old and can afford to buy it, you've likely missed the opportunity to build their aspiration and affinity.
Addressing TV ads to viewers also requires data investments or partners capable of delivering requisite insights that go far beyond demographics on the age, gender and ethnicity of who is watching and when. And with more granular, viewer-specific data, we must develop greater automation for data optimization. The scale of the data and the diversity of platforms simply demand the speed and efficiency tied to automation.
We will continue to contemplate TV's future. As we do this, we must take a more macro view to appreciate how fragmentation is unifying TV with digital to create one powerful thing. We no longer refer to cars as horseless carriages, and one day soon, we may be calling cars autonomous vehicles. Likewise, our nomenclature for TV is due for a tune-up. In 1980, I asked my daughter if she saw a difference between the USA Network and CBS. She did not. It was just TV and not "cable" or "broadcast" to her. The same thing is happening now. Younger people see no difference between linear, over-the-top and digital, and soon these distinctions will become irrelevant. Nor will we plan separately for TV and digital -- it will be about de-duplicating audiences and achieving appropriate reach targets at each step of the consumer journey, with ever-refined target descriptors.
One thing is enduring through all of these changes and that is our intrinsic fascination with moving images. For this reason and because of the powerful new capabilities at hand, the business we know today as TV has a bright road ahead. It won't be your father's TV, nor would you want it to be.