Television Is Dead. Long Live Television!

You may have heard or read lately that television is a medium whose heyday has passed. While it is true that blockbuster-like ratings are a thing of the past (with a few exceptions), overall television viewing time is actually trending upwards. The average American watched 34 hours and 39 minutes of TV per week in 4th Qtr 2010, a 2-minute increase from the previous year. What has changed is what, how, and where we watch. And that, in turn, has changed television advertising.

While we are still watching our favorite scripted shows, news, movies, and sports, thanks in part to cable and the reality show “Survivor,” television barely resembles itself 10 years ago. Following the lead of the premium cable networks such as HBO and Showtime, basic cable networks have invested in quality original programming that the broadcast networks are too afraid to touch. AMC has reinvented itself by airing shows such as “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad” and “The Walking Dead.” As for “Survivor,” its successful premiere in 2000 paved the way for reality programming as a viable—and profitable—option. (The writers’ strike of 2007-08 only added fire to the already-increasing reality show flame).

In addition to changing the programming itself, both cable networks and reality television have ignored the traditional Fall-Spring broadcast season or have deliberately broadcast around it. These program pioneers have proved that people tune in to short-but-all-first-run shows at any time of the year. What these changes have done, however, is divide viewership into lots of program choices garnering smaller audiences. This is great if you are a niche product/service and only want to speak to a small core audience, but poses more of a challenge if you are an advertiser looking to reach a broader range of folks.

How?
Some changes in how we watch television are old news. DVRs have certainly made it easy to record—and fast-forward— through programming. But this isn’t all bad news. Only 40.2% of homes currently have DVRs. Or, more importantly, 59.8% of homes still do not have a DVR. Networks are utilizing tactics to slow us down through the commercial breaks to ensure advertisers are noticed by showing a short scene in the middle of the commercial break. And some forms of programming are inherently less likely to be recorded for later viewing, such as sports, news and “event” programming such as the Super Bowl and the Grammys.

A contributing factor for the television viewing increase is multi-screen engagement. While computers, tablets, smartphones and iPods all compete for our available screen-time, we are multi-tasking our viewing: tweeting and/or Facebooking about what we are watching, which can bring in other viewers to see what all the tweets are about. Networks are also getting in on the action by offering apps to complement their programs. The “Conan” app gives viewers additional content related to the current show. Even veteran shows such as “60 Minutes” and “America’s Funniest Home Videos” have apps to increase the viewer experience.

Where?
As we’re all aware by now, thanks to YouTube, Hulu, and the network sites themselves, television can be watched on demand on about any device with a screen. This is not an obvious benefit for broadcast advertisers, but it allows good shows to build an audience and increase ratings. Websites also offer an integration option with pre-roll and other video choices to repurpose your TV spot for online viewing.

What is on the horizon for TV?
The morphing of television viewing is occurring at a rapid pace. And as we are increasingly able to customize what, when and where we watch our programs, advertising will continue to evolve and shift with it. The “next big things” being talked about are wi-fi enabled televisions, and Apple TV. And you can bet that there are already new advertising options being built to accompany them.

Photo Credit: Flickr’s videocrab

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