Pulse-Checking TV Ahead of the Movies’ Big Night
If there’s ever an occasion to check in on the state of mass viewership, it’s the Academy Awards. And with Box office sales in secular decline, it looks like times are tough from the vantage point inside the Dolby Theater. Yet for the broadcast industry, and especially for ABC—the network that will air the 2017 Oscars—the picture is far more positive. With a whopping $2.1 million asking price for a 30-second ad, the awards are a cash cow for the broadcasting network. Meanwhile, per Kantar Media, ad sales against Oscar broadcasts rose every year from 2007 through 2015 with the exceptions of 2009 and 2012. This year, despite down viewership in 2016, ad inventory for the 2017 Oscars sold out well ahead of the big night.
It’s not only the business of the Oscars that’s doing well. Despite a persistent narrative that TV is in a tailspin, the TV industry remains incredibly robust. Americans still watch an average of 4 hours of TV a day, TV continues to account for over a third of all advertising, and last year’s TV Upfronts ended with an estimated 4.5% sales gain over 2015. There is no question that the new, fragmented online viewing options are changing the rules of viewership. But the picture is far rosier than many of the headlines suggest.
In addition to continued strong viewership and strong advertiser demand, we need to stop assuming that all of TV’s competition is entirely bad. After all, the emerging platforms can be a boon, or at least a frenemy, to TV. Yes, Facebook competes directly for TV ad dollars and digital distracts viewers from the TV screen. But at the same time, those very digital outlets allow viewers to engage more deeply with whatever they’re watching—a fact evinced clearly by the enormous social chatter generated by the Oscars themselves. This deeper engagement can provide businesses an opportunity to connect twice with viewers: once on TV, and again online through opportunities like sponsored hashtags and real-time social posts that respond to what’s on TV. It also allows brands to use social chatter—and online activity more broadly—as a metric for evaluating broadcast ratings, as Nielsen Twitter TV Ratings does.
But what about the new video venues that compete directly for TV viewership – from programs on Netflix to news and video clips on YouTube? In fact, those new platforms, while taking some eyeballs away, also offer new venues for TV professionals to work and TV-relate businesses to expand. That’s immediately apparent in the case of A-list actors, writers and directors who create online originals. It’s equally true for the TV advertising professionals I work with who view online programming as a new horizon for bringing the effectiveness of TV ads to digital viewers.
Of course, turning TV work into online success is by no means a sure thing. It takes changes in approach —from crafting show scripts with binge watching in mind, to bringing multichannel marketing models to TV advertising. Critically, it also requires upgrading infrastructure so workers in one outlet can seamlessly operate across others—as my own business does helping TV advertisers process digital ads as they would TV spots.
There’s no question that mass viewership as we know it is undergoing massive change. For some, this is a threat; but for those who can embrace a new channel-agnostic existence, it’s a tremendous opportunity. The key is to see where existing businesses frameworks can find a home in the new world, and to spot ways new developments can make tried-and-true practices more impactful than ever.
For those who get the formula right, the opportunity is real to forge a deep connection with viewers across any channel. This weekend, that means connecting with Oscars viewers wherever they’re watching—on TV, online, via app, in the Moonlight, or in La La Land.