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February 1, 2019

Just What Is “TV,” Anyway?

There is almost daily coverage in the trades regarding the battle between linear and digital TV for viewer eyeballs and ad dollars, as well as surveys and studies promoting one or the other in terms of ad impact and effectiveness, viewer appeal, etc. While these issues are crucial from a business perspective, they mean very little to the average consumer, who may have a very different outlook on what “TV” is, and how s/he uses it.

A case in point comes from Magna-IPG Media Lab’s research’s report, Reaching The Un-Reachable: Five Myths About People Who Watch Little To No TV. They asked respondents, “When you say, ‘I am going to watch TV,’ what types of activities can that include?” Interestingly, only 21% defined TV as “streaming, broadcast/cable or satellite on TV.” The rest saw TV as a myriad of options, including viewing short form videos, watching video on mobile devices, etc. When asked specifically about the devices they use for “watching television,” 96% still cite an actual TV, but 63% also reported using PCs and 49% using mobile.  And when asked about content (on any device), 96% cited broadcast TV, 77% streaming and 71% short-form video clips. So, to most viewers, “TV” is no longer just the set in the living room, and content isn’t just  a 30-minute sitcom or 60-minute drama.

It works both ways though; viewer’s use of digital platforms is also influenced by long-held habits of linear TV viewership. According to iab’s December 2018 Video Landscape Report, the majority (56%) of OTT/CTV viewership still occurs on  “the big screen” as they term it, meaning an actual television. Fewer than half as many (25%) said mobile/tablet and only 14% PCs. Moreover, 73% of Streaming video viewers said that they watch ad supported video the most. So, what do we see here? Consumers watching programming—with commercials—in the comfort of their living rooms as they have always done. To them, does it matter whether it is “linear” TV or an emerging platform? Probably not. It’s all TV to them. The question is, what should that mean to us?

Some Thoughts on Audience-Based Buying In Next Upfront

The 2019-20 upfront is already a hot topic in the trades, particularly regarding audience buying, and we thought we’d share some thoughts on the subject. Already we are seeing enthusiastic commentary about how this type of buying is shaking up traditional TV time buying and may perhaps capture 10-15% of the market in this year’s upfront (per Jay Prasad, CMO of VideoAmp, as cited in MediaPost, 12/18/18). And the ability of audience-based buying is touted as a better, more focused way to reach viewers, as opposed to old-school upfront deals.

"Audience based" tends to mean brand-by-brand buys that are negotiated with individual network sellers using "big data" set usage ratings to index each show for its supposed  marketing value to the advertiser. These findings are then applied to conventional Nielsen ratings—usually by sex and age—to form the "currency" for each purchase and its audience guarantees. The problem with these "advancements" is the fact that, so far, these have all been single seller deals without the ability of the buyer to evaluate the offerings of competing sellers. This puts the seller in control, not the buyer. In addition, the use of "big data" set usage ratings to determine the "value" of the audience is heavily biased in favor of the sellers and counter to that of the buyers, as it creates a misleadingly positive profile for many shows whose actual viewers are not nearly as attractive as the indices paint them. For this type of buying to really gain traction, buyers mustn’t feel like the cards are stacked against them.

In addition—and this is the tough nut to crack—most upfront buys are, and will remain, corporate, not individual brand negotiations. How can audience-based buying/targeting be applied when the client is lumping all sorts of product groups and targeting needs together, in search of the best upfront deals? Until this changes, movement in this direction will remain limited.

Yes, audience-based buying is on the rise, and the targeting selectivity it offers is appealing. However, these practical concerns must be addressed for this approach to make more significant inroads against traditional time buying.


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