So it is with the Big Three broadcast TV networks and their spot-on decision to cease resisting video on demand and begin offering parts of their prime-time schedule on a time-shifted basis for viewers willing to pony up. The decision was inevitable, but that it came so quickly-and with less of a struggle than we've grown accustomed to expecting from traditional-media giants resistant to change and protective of outdated business models-is commendable. ABC, CBS and NBC, through their respective content deals with Apple, Comcast and DirecTV, look downright proactive about change, and respectful of consumer empowerment.
As we've noted repeatedly in the last year, the revelation that consumer spending on media (such as cable TV, recorded music and film tickets) overtook advertising spending for the first time in 2003 was a watershed moment, "nothing short of a revolution," in the words of one observer. It signaled the end of an era of intrusion by the networks and other content providers and the transfer of control to consumers. It also undercut the arrogant leverage of advertisers who underwrote network programming and often sniffed that if viewers wanted to bypass commercials they would have to pay for shows themselves. The assumption was they wouldn't. That option now lies where it belongs-with viewers themselves. They've proved willing to pay for content they want and for control over when and how they interact with it.
The next step is for the advertising industry to stop devaluing viewers who watch shows on a time-shifted basis. There's still a place for advertising in such an environment, and viewers who use technology to take control of their media consumption likely represent some of the most desirable eyeballs. The value might not be the same for time-sensitive messages, but the position by media buyers that they will not count such viewers is untenable. Let's see them respond as the networks just have: in a way that recognizes the need to change.