Is TV Advertising Really Dead?

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I wrote the original version of this post when I was Creative Director at Do Tank Studios. I’ve updated it here because it may be relevant to NGOs who are thinking of running broadcast campaigns now or in the future.

It seems to be flavour of the month again to proclaim the death of TV advertising but I’m not convinced the detractors are really seeing the big picture. Sure, broadcasters have seen their revenues fall as the number of broadcast channels increase and internet focussed digital marketing strategies encroach on their monopoly but that’s just the free market economy in action; the prohibitive rates broadcasters have got away with until now are no longer justifiable, TV is no longer the only way to get market reach and social media has given engagement a whole new meaning …

This is not news, Lee Daley, chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi UK, was saying it back in 2005 with his article: “We’re looking at the death of the ‘TV-comes-first’ model, definitely,”. Times have changed a bit since then (YouTube came out in 2005) but the decline of TV advertising budgets, revenue and effectiveness continues.

But why?

TV is still, by far, the dominant entertainment medium in western society. Almost all households in Europe and US have access to terrestrial (and soon to be digital) TV. It’s cheap and it’s available everywhere while broadband Is still only available to around 45% of Europe as a whole and only in built-up areas of the US.

Compare that to figures from BBC which state TV consumption is actually up on previous years and, in other polls, TV is stated as the resource “most likely to be missed”, way above internet access. So it’s not a lack of interest in video entertainment that’s causing the downturn in advertising revenues.

A pretty good digital TV set costs considerably less than the price of the cheapest laptop and consumers are still buying and watching TV. Around 40% of UK households own more than one TV set. So it can’t be any barriers to entry or a lack of demand that’s seeing the decline in TV advertising.

Affordable PVRs like SkyPlus and FreeView+ do give viewers the ability to skip the ads – the worst possible scenario for ad agencies – but they still have very low market penetration.

The real problem is that consumers are wiser and increasingly able to “see-through” the joins between a clever marketing campaign and the reality of the product or service being promoted.

We Love TV

The internet and the various forms of digital marketing have been the single biggest impact on TV (and newspaper) advertising revenues. While traditional ad agencies are still struggling to “get” digital consumers are talking to each other online, making recommendations and ringing alarm bells.

I discussed this with a very senior creative at a very renowned ad agency and was told “you can do some great stuff with banner ads”. Perhaps they are too busy winning awards from their equally deluded peers to notice that no-one clicks banner ads anymore.

Honestly, how often do you click banner ads? Now, how often do you click the links that friends send via email or twitter?

We know that online, when handled correctly, enables a more accountable, more measurable and, in many ways, more focused campaign strategy. We also know that it’s reach, in terms of numbers, falls far below that of TV (and will remain so for many years to come). The quality of the TV viewers and their willingness to engage, rather than passively observe, is yet to be adequately evaluated but the  levels of  engagement achievable through web-enabled channels, it’s communities and the ability to action consumer feedback in minutes simply aren’t available in the un-hearing, one-way model of broadcast advertising.

But let’s not write-off TV advertising yet. It’s a lack of understanding, imagination and vision that are killing it, NOT the format itself. And that’s going to have to change.

Concurrent viewing, where the viewing audience is surfing the web while watching TV, switching attention between TV and Internet is on the rise – you only need to check Twitter when The Apprentice is on to get a powerful snapshot of how people are consuming their content. Concurrent Viewing is also being fuelled by the rise of web-enabled Mobile phones and devices so it’s no big deal to predict concurrent viewing will  increase rapidly in the next 2 years… sidenote: make sure site works well on mobiles.

And in about two years, do you know what will happen then? Well, let me tell you. I’ve been working with a consortium of broadcasters including the BBC to prototype and develop the next generation TV, code-named “Canvas” , and it’s web-enabled. That’s right, I can click a TV commercial and buy the product immediately, watch a fund-raising campaign and donate without picking up the phone or watch an interview with a pop start and buy the album (or download it). A joined-up campaign that that integrates the best of broadcast & online in tandem and that allows two-way feedback on both platforms, will create a much more powerful, measurable and effective result.

Do you see where I’m going here? Is it obvious yet? TV advertising may be under pressure but it is still a powerful influencer and not to be ignored in an integrated campaign strategy. And pretty soon, with the right thinking, it should be part of your digital strategy.

5 Comments For This Post

  1. hannahh kelly Says:

    Very nice article indeed! Well, even I believe that TV advertising is losing its value and is being eroded by internet. Also, many of us know that online advertising is rival to TV advertising. Here is an article which gives an insight into online advertising gaining on TV advertising.

    http://www.webguild.org/2009/05/online-advertising-bridging-chasm-to-tv-revenues.php

  2. Vicky Grinnell-Wright Says:

    a debate that raged back in 1998 when I spent a lot of time telling Unilever (amongst others) that the web would change the world and that the TIVO box (early Sky Plus) would render the 30 second spot obsolete…

  3. online internet tv Says:

    Ooohh, Just wanted to respond. I thoroughly loved your post. Keep up the great work. :)

  4. COMMUNARDS Says:

    Advertising starts at the television and I think that remains the same. Internet is just an additional media that the advertisers use since lots of poeple are already using it.

  5. Mike Says:

    Well, TV advertising is still the best. There are still some senior who prefer watching TV that dealing with computers, so I think its still effective.

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