TV Networks on the Right Path With Ad Experiments

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

If recent developments are any indication, it looks like the big broadcast networks aren't going to lumber blindly into the tar pits of media history.

Sure, at first glance the news that Kellogg is finding twice the return on investment in the digital space than it does with traditional advertising seems like another nail in the coffin. As does an Epsilon CMO Survey that found that nearly two-thirds of chief marketing officers said their interactive/digital marketing budgets have increased in the past year, while 60% have seen their traditional ad budgets shrink.

While the rest of the ad world has seen the writing on the wall for some time now, the networks have been slow to accept the reality. But now that they've grudgingly admitted the old days are behind us, it's good to see that they're trying to experiment with new models.

Fox, for example, cut the number of spots interrupting the debut of "Fringe," making the show less cluttered and the ads that did run -- theoretically at least -- more valuable. There are still kinks to work out. While we were excited by the prospect, the reality was that the local affiliates still crammed their spots full of the same old, same old. But the fact is that 20 years ago, suggesting that a network run half the ads in one of the season's most-anticipated debuts -- and continue to do that for the entire season -- would have gotten you laughed out of the room.

So would the suggestion that a network allow something called a Google to take over parts of your sales inventory, as NBC Universal has done for remnants on its cable properties. But now it seems like a no-brainer. Why not let a search engine take on the task of selling these spots: It allows the network to cuts its own costs and to focus its staff on the bigger integrated multiplatform deals networks will need to nail in order to survive.

There are more of these experiments in the works. And they are just that: experiments. At this point, the new business model has yet to be found, and it might be futile to try to keep making these smaller deals live up to the mass-media deals of the past.

Whether the networks (or anyone for that matter) will figure out how to live on these smaller slices remains to be seen. But it's good to see they've at least moved beyond denial.
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