Get with the new program

Advertisers still aren’t valuing online viewers to the degree a TV viewer is valued, and that’s a problem.

I may like TV too much. When the pilots for Fall TV arrive in June, I scoop them up and run home for a marathon screening, skipping upfront parties for a first look at Hawaii Five-0 and $#*! My Dad Says (a.k.a. what William Shatner is up to this year). I think Global and CTV respectively have shows here that all ages may like.
Usually my teenage son plops down to watch the pilots with me – he may also like TV too much – but this year he was busy catching up on episodes of shows he’d discovered online. And therein lies the caveat – I say “may like” for this year’s crop, because the discovery of new shows is happening differently now. A lot of youth sit down and watch whole series online, so while they’re not reducing their TV regimen, it may not involve an actual TV set, and let’s face it, often not Canadian network sites.
Finding Community late in its broadcast season is no longer a problem. Fans catch up online, and stats show that’s growing more mainstream. That sounds like a good thing for the network’s eyeball business, more opportunity to collect an audience. But advertisers still aren’t valuing online viewers to the degree a TV viewer is valued, and that’s impeding the development of the digital side of the biz. Which is necessary. And inevitable.
And it’s a lost opportunity. When I watch “my shows” on the nets’ nice new online players, I tend to see the same darn ad over and over again. I would actually welcome being targeted more precisely or engaged more interactively. A magazine ad recently lured me online to a video contest, so if I’m already online, I’m likely easier game.
It’s not just a TV phenomenon. The New York Times’ whole iPad endeavour seems to be supported by one watch ad. This is kind of a problem.
TV is still solid (advertising is expected to grow at an annual rate of 3.8%) but the lure of online viewing is causing a generational shift in how it’s consumed. In the story “Wandering Eyes,” Cossette Media’s Nick Barbuto says many youth are not getting cable when they get their own place, and he thinks conventional TV may soon go the way of landlines with this demo.
The keynoter of strategy’s recent Understanding Youth event, Dr. Adam Klein, who teaches digital business models to Columbia journalism students, says his students don’t have TVs and no longer consume media in a linear fashion. They are transmedia natives, experiencing content from many different touchpoints, and Klein, who has headed up and consulted for a who’s who of tech and media brands, says this calls for planning differently to reach them.
Which begs the question, if 24/7 digital asset access is the new glue on that front, shouldn’t online eyeballs be valued more by advertisers? And shouldn’t networks be targeting them differently? Right now the network sites seem geared to helping out the poor souls who miss episodes, rather than reaching out to an audience who aren’t already within its TV net.
When you look at the music industry, you see what kind of damage can be wrought by not moving the business model along with the consumer’s consumption wishes. But when so much money is at stake, and so many business models are rooted in planning from a certain starting point, inertia is inevitable. Change does not come easy, someone has to step out on the limb.
So it’s great to see the social TV forays being made by the likes of CBC (see “New Frontiers”), but networks need more media agency/advertiser support for a concerted sea change to a digitally led strategy.
Canada is now at a crossroads. Canadian producers have a new federal funding model kicking in that requires TV properties to also have digital iterations. So, the additive content to create a new model is coming. It’s time for a new mindset – reconsider the value of that growing segment of online TV viewers, and reach out to the transmedia tribe with content that leads them to Canadian network destinations. And don’t wait until they’ve moved on.

Cheers, mm
Mary Maddever, exec editor, strategy, Media in Canada and stimulant