Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Future of Television

A new survey of advertisers indicates that television advertising is losing its effectiveness. This is primarily blamed on the prevalence of Digital Video Recorders that allow viewers to skip commercials. But it’s also due to the continuing drop in network viewership.

For a number of years, those of us in the advertising industry have been finding new ways and places to hock our clients wares. A decline in the effectiveness of TV advertising won’t stop advertising. In fact, it’ll just expand the places you find ads. If you’re one of those people who hate being bombarded by ads everywhere you turn, brace yourself. It’s going to get worse.

But that’s not the interesting part of this story. What’s interesting is that television is going to have to adapt or die. If we’re all going to fast forward through the ads, networks are going to have to find new revenue streams to survive. HBO has already proved that people will pay a monthly fee to see programming. Can more pay-to-view shows be far behind?

Or, how about shows that you can download straight to your DVR for free that require you to watch commercials before viewing. For a premium, you can get the non-commercial version.

Of course, that’s a solution that’s probably pretty far off. Most likely we’ll first see a large increase in product placements including shows using an entire episode as a commercial-within-a-show. This will of course kill the creativity of those shows and lead to lower ratings, but the advertisers won’t care. They’ll just move on to the next desperate network.

No matter the course taken, the end result to all of this will likely be a radical transformation in how we watch television. The final episode of Seinfeld may be remembered as the last, great national television moment when we all (or at least a significant portion of us) tuned in at the same time for a non-sporting event. And while that feels unfortunate on some level, it really just means that our choices for entertainment are on the rise. Increasingly, we will no longer have to depend on just a few content providers to create shows we want to watch. They’ll come from more sources, in more formats, more frequently.

Some might say that this will leave us without shared cultural touchstones, but I doubt that’s true. We will still find events and movies and other moments where we all can share in the same experience. That’s just a natural part of society.

As far as I’m concerned, the death of traditional television is not something to mourn. It’s something to look forward to.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Stephen Curtice said...

Alan, my friend, have you read Syrup by Maxx Barry? You should.

Love the blog!

Stephen Curtice

5:32 PM  
Blogger M. Takhallus. said...

I actually have a kind of idea for this. I think advertisers should design DVR-proof ads. If you put a persistent image up -- could just be a web site address or logo -- and keep it on some portion of the screen, it remains visible during most DVR fast forwarding.

7:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unless "prevalence" is defined as 9-10%, the DVR argument is sort of a straw man. It may be forward looking to worry about them now, but it doesn't seem to be a huge problem yet to a non-expert like me.

I'm just worried about how much worse it can get. Like you said, people won't want to watch the Coca-Cola show. Busses are already rolling billboards. The town where I grew up has sponsored road signs that say "Watch for Pedesterians" over a big ad. (I think I may have run over two or three people while trying to read the names of mortgage and insurance companies on the signs.) I recently heard that there's some advertising company that is going to start putting ads on the white lines in parking lots!

I can only hope that the entire advertising system will lose prevalence. Right now, we pay for all that network and most cable television with every can of Coke, every shirt from the GAP, and every new car we buy. If advertising budgets weren't so huge, and *if* product prices were reduced to reflect that, we might have more money to directly support our entertainment.

9:55 AM  
Blogger M. Takhallus. said...

I don't think product placement necessarily kills every show. A couple years ago I wrote a concept for a realty-sitcom-travel show designed to weave product placement in seamlessly. It's just a writing job, not an impossibility. It doesn't have to be done as miserably as American Idol does it.

And I think webcasts offer a way to use product placement in a way that may be seen as enhancing the show itself: a watcher drags a mouse over a suitcase or an outfit or a watch and gets a link.

12:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

network viewership is not down. I would suggest you double check your figures.

THere are more networks with nationwide coverage now then there were five years ago. In addition, viewership (total households with television viewers) has increased steadily since the dawn of television. We're currently above 110 million viewers nationally. As that number increases it changes the dynamic of the "rating" point and share.

TV exists because of advertising, not the other way around. Plain and simple. If johnson and johnson didn't have soap to sell, then ER wouldn't exist.

9:00 PM  
Blogger gshevlin said...

I watch very little television these days, and a major reason is that I loathe and detest interruption marketing. (I also haven't gotten around to buying a TIVO, because the amount of TV that I watch doesn't justify it). I am an advertising exec's worst nightmare, because I ignore most ads (and don't give me the "subliminal" message argument because I heard that decades ago, and I still don't buy stuff just because I saw a cool ad).
If a network offered me interesting programming for a monthly fee with the promise of no advertising, I would sign up for it. I have yet to see such an offer. Plus, I come to my second reason for not watching...the quality of modern television programming here in the USA on average is appalling. And don't get me started on political and news programming, which is so far in the dumper you would need a submarine to find most of it...
I despise interruption marketing and the programming is crap. What is there to like about TV right now?

Irving Progressive

9:12 PM  

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