This week, DMEXCO brought over 3,000 advertising executives from across the globe to Cologne, Germany to discuss the latest challenges, innovation and changes that digital media and technology are bringing to the industry. At a conference of this magnitude, topics are always diverse. This year, however, one of the hot topics was television—a bit unprecedented at a conference dubbed a “digital marketing exposition and conference,” though not surprising given the dramatic changes happening in television and video viewing around the world.
Honestly, I don’t have time to watch a lot of television outside of the programs my kids watch. But a few weeks ago I did find time to watch a bit of the primetime Emmy awards (testament to television’s still powerful draw to attract viewers to live “event TV”). If anyone doubted that big changes were occurring in how we define and watch television, one needed to look no further than this iconic awards show.
The purpose of the Emmy Awards has always been clear: To recognize and celebrate the best of television programming each year. In that sense, this year’s Emmys show was no different. But looking a bit beneath the surface, the seismic shift that began when broadband programming first became eligible for an Emmy award nomination back in 2008 is only gaining momentum. From streaming services like Netflix nominated for 31 Emmys, to original programming from traditional online players such as AOL, nominated for its first primetime Emmy for “Park Bench with Steve Buscemi,” to the slew of cable and premium networks nominated for Emmys this year, there has never been more diversity in platforms or players, stretching well beyond the traditional broadcast networks.
In his televised speech, the president of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences said as much: The medium is “innovating and evolving to inspire our 21st century audience—indeed more people are watching more television on more devices and platforms than ever before.” That’s a significant statement from the head of the television academy—an industry that just a few years ago could well be seen as having the most to lose from this influx of devices and alternative sources of content. But today, the rejuvenated television industry is looking at these new platforms as TV extensions, rather than competitors. The industry is finding new ways to win, attracting new viewers and producing some of the best content in decades. Advertisers are sharing in this winning scenario, too, by actively incorporating new viewing platforms into their media strategies.
The New Television Landscape
Not long ago, advertisers could reliably turn to television to produce the so-called “hypodermic needle” effect on consumers: With a basic media plan including a few top-rated programs, mass audiences could be “injected” with a given message in one swath. For instance, in 1990, the top-rated program on broadcast TV was Cheers, with the average episode reaching 21.3 percent of adults 18-49, according to Nielsen. By 2000, the top rated show was Survivor, and that reach had declined to 16.9 percent of the same demographic. By 2013, the top-rated program was Sunday Night Football, the reach here dwindling to only 8.2 percent of the coveted adult 18-49 consumer base.
The reason for this decline in reach is, of course, media fragmentation. Today there are ever-increasing programming choices and a myriad of devices on which to watch them, giving consumers the control to watch content when and where they want to. This fragmentation has had two principal effects. It’s created more platforms for content developers, and thus more opportunity for diversity and experimentation, yielding some of the great programming innovation celebrated at this year’s Emmys. At the same time, that fragmentation has given rise to increasingly difficult challenges for advertisers who traditionally relied on television for efficient, high-reach audience delivery.
With Great Change Comes Great Opportunity
Of course, linear television—broadcast or cable network programming viewed on traditional TV screens via cable or satellite providers—remains a tremendously important advertising medium. It’s not going anywhere anytime soon. But it may no longer be sufficient for brands to reach an adequate number of consumers, particularly among the younger demographics most actively embracing new viewing options. Consider that today 34 percent of millennials aged 18-34 watch more online video than television, according to a 2013 New York Times study.
Fortunately, for those advertisers—and there are many—willing to follow viewers across devices such as the computer, smartphone or tablet, or to access audiences through Internet streaming devices such as Roku or Amazon’s Fire TV and connected TVs, any viewing declines in linear television can not only be mitigated, they can actually be overcome.
While it may seem paradoxical, the increasing quality of content that diversification has spawned is actually equally good for advertisers. Not only does quality offer favorable brand environments for advertisers, it also boosts engagement and advertising effectiveness. The opportunity here lies in tapping into content produced by broadcast and cable networks and redistributed by players like Hulu and the network sites, and in original online video content produced by players such as AOL, Yahoo, Netflix, Amazon, Google and a host of others. Yes, more targeted, niche programming may appeal to smaller audience segments, but when stitched together, particularly with the help of technology, advertisers are able to create their own audience networks that reach precisely the consumers they desire in even more targeted ways. While scale may still be limited, when these digital video campaigns are coupled with linear television advertising, they actually can produce reach increases in a range of 8 percent to 10 percent, compared to using linear television alone. Even as these new opportunities in video advertising are creating new possibilities for advertisers never before offered on television, TV as we’ve known it for decades remains pretty darned great. Advertisers of course will – and should – continue using it to sell their products. Make no mistake, the definition of television will continue to expand to even more fantastic and inventive content that’s distributed across a range of distribution models and devices. This expansion is welcome news for both viewers and advertisers alike.