Bad programming will be the ‘death’ of traditional TV – not advertising

Contrary to what network honchos may say, linear TV is not dying due to consumers' indifference to advertising – it's because most of its content completely sucks, writes Bob Hoffman

Understanding television viewing has become very complicated.

First, there are many different types of screens — traditional TV screens, PCs, tablets and smart phones. Then there are different delivery systems – over-the-air, cable, web, apps. Then there is ad-supported TV and subscription based TV (Netflix, Amazon.)

There’s time-shifted viewing, video-on-demand, and different kinds of “multi-media” boxes (Roku, Apple TV, etc.) to watch through.

Sometimes it’s hard to define what “watching TV” even means. Is someone who is viewing an ad-supported segment of a network TV show on YouTube on her flat screen watching TV or surfing the web? Who the hell knows how to define these things any more?

This confusion has led to the widely reported nonsense about the ‘death of television’. The critical thing for marketers to understand is consumer behaviour, not the fine points of delivery systems or industry definitions. And consumer behaviour is very clear – people still love to sit on their asses and watch TV.

As the above table from Nielsen’s Q2, 2017 Total Audience Report illustrates, despite the hysterical headlines of the death of TV, sitting on our asses and watching television is far from dying.

By the strictest definition of TV viewing (the use of an actual television set) out of almost five hours of daily TV viewing, people spent about six fewer minutes a day watching TV in 2017 than they did in 2016. Hardly life threatening.

And remember, a significant component of the video viewing that is done online (Netflix, YouTube, Hulu) is actually television programming.

That doesn’t help the TV networks, who continue to loose share. This week a bunch of network big shots got together to discuss their problem.

To anyone outside the TV feedback loop the problem is obvious – network programming (content, if you prefer) largely sucks and new programming sources (Netflix, Amazon, Apple, etc) are pouring billions into superior programming.
But some of the TV chiefs want to lay the blame off on advertising.

NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt said: “Consumers are running away from advertising in droves…That’s the issue of the moment.” Not quite that simple. The issue of the moment is that consumers are running away from crap of all kinds, and while advertising may be part of the problem, programming is the biggest part.

I don’t mean for a moment to defend the quality of the creative work coming out of agencies. It is largely horrifying and disgraceful. As MediaPost says: “It is so terrible that it turns off consumers to the degree that they are driven even faster to these new, non-ad-revenue-supported entertainment platforms.”

Once again, the awful quality of most advertising may be an accelerator, but the primary driver of video viewers to non-network sources is not lousy advertising. It’s inferior programming. And no amount of delegating blame will change that.

Bob Hoffman has been the CEO of two independent agencies and is the author of the Ad Contrarian blog


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