The Tune-Up Of TV

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How do you define TV?

Before a recent flight, I downloaded the BBC television series, Sherlock, from the UK. I bought the series on iTunes. I watched the series on my iPad. There were no commercials. It didn’t happen on a set and specific weeknight. I could pause it, fast forward it, rewind it and more. That series isn’t even available in this country. What made it TV? Nothing of the qualities that we use to define it as "TV" made it "TV." The show – in and of itself – was a three episode season, with each episode clocking in at close to an hour and a half. It wound up feeling like three movies. Not like TV at all. It was hard to even identify where the commercials would have gone, had I watched it on my television set.

It was just video.

Do we need to re-define what TV is? Is TV in need of a tune-up? Yahoo News ran a fascinating news item titled, Nielsen shows how people use TV differently, recently. Here are some things about TV that you need to know, according this article:

  • More and more US homes don’t have traditional TV service.
  • That doesn’t mean that they don’t have TVs. They have TVs, they just aren’t hook up to a traditional TV service.
  • Three-quarters of the estimated five million homes that don’t get TV signals over the airways or through cable, satellite or telecommunications companies have televisions anyway.
  • Those TVs are used for DVDs, Netflix or Apple TV instead.
  • People with economical challenges see TV as "expendable," so more and more people are simply not getting it.

What does this mean?

According to the article: "Because of the changes, Nielsen is considering redefining what it considers a television household to include people who get service through Netflix or similar services instead of the traditional TV signals, Turrill said. During the first three months of 2012, the average consumer spent about 2 percent less time watching traditional TV than the previous year, Nielsen said. They more than made up for that by spending more time watching material recorded on DVRs or on the Internet through TVs, computers and mobile devices."

Nielsen is evolving its definition of TV… are advertisers?

Television is an advertising-driven medium. Nobody ever thought that anybody would pay money to watch TV shows. They were wrong. People bought seasons of their favorite shows on DVD and with the ascent of on-demand and digital downloads, the appetite to pay for TV programming has become more ravenous. Where does this leave TV advertising? By no means are we experiencing any semblance of a mass exodus away from our TVs, so that level of advertising is still powerful and prevalent. The question becomes: if the definition of TV changes as dramatically as it is, what becomes of advertising. Subscription-based models can work extremely well for television broadcasters, but it leaves traditional advertising out in the cold. Many will point to product placement and sponsorship as alternate marketing options, while some think that the advertising dollars will shift from TV to other formats (namely, the Internet).

Being complacent.

Because TV advertising is still such a robust and cash-rich business, there doesn’t seem to be a sense of urgency from the media companies to figure this out now. It has a striking resemblance to the music industry in the pre-digital download days. The writing is on the wall and I am not the first to bring these issues to the frontlines. The music industry didn’t listen to these challenges because the money was too good. It feels like the TV industry is doing much of the same. While the data doesn’t suggest that TV advertising is going anywhere soon (and I happen to agree with that), there is no denying that it is changing (just re-read the quote above by Nielsen).

So, what’s it going to take for us, as the marketing community, to re-think TV advertising models?