It’s Time for TV Advertisers to Strike Back

Growing up, I watched a lot of TV ads. I’m of the first real TV generation where from infancy, TV was a core part of my life and entertainment experiences. There are TV ads that stick in my mind even to this day, decades later, and yet I can’t really recall any TV ad I have seen in the last 6 months that wasn’t broadcast during a live sporting event. It’s not hard to understand why… I haven’t seen any TV commercials recently. The PVR has stripped the need for me to sit and watch a TV show live. The convenience of being able to consume 60 minutes of TV in ~44 minutes by PVR-ing and fast-forwarding through the commercials has drained the vast majority of value out of TV ads. The time has come for TV advertisers to embrace change and strike back. No longer should they pay high prices for prime time, non-live TV advertising. It’s time find new ways to engage their attention-starved audience and reach out to the new generation of consumers that are no longer paying attention to their 30 second vignettes. Both my girlfriend (who’s not a mobile nerd like I am) and I find ourselves almost invariably cradling our Blackberry or iPhone in one hand (or keeping it right nearby) throughout the majority of our TV viewing. Whomever is not fast-forwarding is usually checking out the game they’re in the middle of, looking for new Twitter messages, or seeing who that email that just arrived is from. This is the new medium through which advertisers need to reach out to todays consumers.

TV shows and advertisers need to work hand-in-hand to provide continuous engagement for their audience throughout a TV show. To do this, new experiences must be created that will provide short, interesting bits of information to the viewers during all phases of the TV show experience. The most recent example of a TV show trying something new on this front is the Grey’s Anatomy Sync app that was used in last week’s episode (and will be used for the remainder of the season). You can read more about the app on Mashable or download it from iTunes here… if you have an iPad.

Using the audio watermarks that TV programs typically use for tracking TV ratings, the app can figure out where a viewer is in a program and offer up corresponding content on the iPad. This means that in addition to using the app when watching the show live, users can also use the app when watching on a time-shifted copy of the program or when fast-forwarding or rewinding the show. [Mashable]

It’s a great step and one that I wish some of my favourite TV programs would use. I would love to see behind the scenes information, director’s and cast comments, more back story on the episode, etc. There’s a number of ways that I can see leveraging mobile devices (hopefully not just the iPad but BlackBerry, iPhone, Playbook, Android, etc.) to enhance the TV experience but the more interactive with the user the better. Imagine if, when you’re watching a police drama and they have a suspect’s police file they are reading through on the show, you could leaf through a virtual file on your mobile device at the some time. Maybe you notice clues that the characters don’t until later in the episode.

All the time that the viewer is spending with their eyes off the TV on their mobile device, ads can be running — and very personalized ads. TV ads are pretty general purpose because you can only segment the audience as far as the viewership for that TV show allows. But on a mobile device, you can deliver personalized ads to the viewer that have orders of magnitude higher click-throughs and engagement then generic ads.

That’s all possible today without having to have viewers buy new stuff. But think even bigger. What’s the value of 5 personalized advertisements in one hour that you KNOW a viewer is watching vs. 30 generic ones you know most people are just fast-forwarding through? If each commercial break was only 30 seconds long, would you bother to fast forward? All the technology exists today for your set-top box to communicate with mobile devices you have on you so that the box knows who is in the room watching TV. Since all your set-top TV is streamed digitally over the network to you already, it would not be hard at all for the service provider to stream different ads in each commercial break to every set-top box. The value of these personalized ads would be so much higher than the generic ones that there would need to be less of them. TV stations or service providers could even charge variable pricing to advertisers based upon how many personalized ads are shown vs generic.

Getting consumer buy-in for such personalized marketing is always a challenge. The most successful opt-in personalized marketing happens when there is tangible value to the consumer for opting in. For most TV viewers, and certainly for most viewers that PVR shows, commercials are the least enjoyable part of watching TV (Super Bowl aside). If you offered someone the opportunity to reduce the commercial’s they see by 80% and increase the number of minutes per hour of actual TV show time by 25%, all for downloading a free application that also provided them with extra info on their TV show, what kind of uptake would you get? My money’s on mass adoption.

It’s time for TV entertainment to embrace mobile technology not just in a small way, but in a huge and industry-altering way. Fewer ads means a better viewing experience for the customer, targeted ads means more effective marketing for advertisers and effective marketing means higher ad rates for TV stations. That’s a win-win-win for everyone.

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