This week's Ad Age headlines an upbeat piece on broadcast television with the following headline: "Comeback trail" and "cancel the funeral: broadcast TV is alive and kicking harder than it has in years"
The article highlights strong season premiere numbers, with Grey's Anatomy for example boasting numbers which would have put it in the top 5, 10 years ago.
That said, it also shows a side-by-side comparison of the 2006 season versus 2005-2006, 2000-2001 and 1994-1995 and it doesn't take a genius to infer that all is not as rosy as the article suggests. One just has to look at exactly a year ago to see sharp drops across the board.
- 2006 #1: Grey's @ 25.4 Million Viewers vs '05-'06 #1: American Idol @ 31 Million
- 2006 #5: CSI Miami @ 17.6 Million vs '05-'06 #5: Grey's Anatomy @ 19.7 Million
...and 10 years ago (1994-1995), the #5 show (Monday Night Football) had 24.4 Million viewers which would narrowly have placed it in second position this year.
Here's a quote which I think sums up the article nicely:
At least one beleaguered buyer said the effort and cost involved in keeping on top of new media has his agency questioning whether its just simpler and cheaper to target the mass audience and live with the waste.
The article raises some key points, such as:
1) Often times, innovation occurs when the stakes are higher and the players in question have the most to lose. Innovation within the broadcast industry is at an all time high...and yet it is still woefully too little (and arguably too late)
2) Content is King. Investing in content (and talent) is always going to be a solid and superior strategy. The dearth of quality content in favor of a reality TV glut opened up the networks to tremendous competitive (or cannibalistic) inroads. This imbalance is being addressed.
3) Industry participants inability and/or reluctance to weather the storm
4) The difference between content and commercials
Here's the thing...Grey's Anatomy is a great show (I don't watch it for some reason, but many do); American Idol is a pop-culture phenomenon. Desperate Housewives is hanging in there. No one disputes the value and merits of these programs, BUT they are few and far between...and are diminishing in terms of numbers. I wonder how the side by side comparisons would look if shows 6-10 or better yet, 11-20 were listed. Ad Age, care to oblige?
Furthermore, and I'm going to be a stickler here....the numbers mentioned and the positions represented are still focused on POTENTIAL REACH i.e. the opportunity or possibility for any given advertising message to be able to be seen by a viewer (intended or otherwise) It's still all about exposure; mass reach and ultimately awareness.
Where's the engagement factor? Where's the proof of view? Where's the ROI activation component which proves that consumers are watching, remembering, internalizing AND acting on said communication?
My fear is that the marginal (read: mediocre) marketers out there and the incremental (read: lazy) agencies are going to take this article as a huge sigh of relief that all is well in TV Land.
But it's not. Not by a long shot.
What we need to see is proof that TV as an advertising medium (interruptive commercials, product placement and brand entertainment), is worth its weight in increased CPM's (efficiency) and total dollar investment. We need to see proof that advertising still works (effectiveness) against marketing and business objectives.
Where's the research (not commissioned by an agency or broadcast/cable network) to prove and demonstrate that more (or enough) people are watching advertising, as opposed to CONTENT, AND that there is clear follow-through (cognition, investigate, intent, action) as a result?
I love "The Amazing Race", but I couldn't tell you one single advertisement EVER to have been placed in the show. The only advertiser I am aware of is the solid show integration by Travelocity...but I will never visit Travelocity as I am a pretty loyal (not sure why) patron of Orbitz.
Les(lie) and Dave - please share with Jaffe Juice readers your proof of concept with respect to Travelocity's traffic and business spikes as a result of their investment.
And even so, I come back to a key point raised earlier: even if Travelocity's involvement = a home run for the travel brand, how many others are there quite like this one? The Amazing Race is a cut above its reality counterparts...even Survivor cannot compete anymore (GM recently pulled out of the series)
Bottom line: 5 hits do not a medium make or at least indicate a renaissance.
Marketers (or at least the ones I talk to) are not convinced anymore. They are - pretty much - unanimous in their discontent with the status quo and resolute on their efforts to discover "Life after the 30-second spot".
They are not going to abandon television (nor should they), BUT they are disgruntled and dissatisfied with "paying more for less". They will continue to shift dollars away from television in favor of alternatives, including the burgeoning suite of approaches under the new marketing umbrella, as well as experimentation in general (including television itself)
One thing is for certain, the picture in 5 years' time will look VERY different from today's snapshot.