Category Archives: cable TV

The fastest-growing media? Old, stodgy TV.

Wired magazine co-founder Kevin Kelly ran some numbers and found that television vastly outranks all other media in terms of hours used by U.S. consumers. Cable and satellite TV are the fastest-growing communication formats in terms of consumption, with Internet use a comparatively small slice of the media pie. How much? The average U.S. consumer watches 1,685 hours of TV a year, nearly equal to time spent working for a paycheck.

Kelly notes the Internet is rising as a share of total media use, yet “total time spent on the Internet is not even close” to broadcast. This reminds us of commentator Alan Wolk, who has suggested digitally sophisticated marketers often fall into a bias trap, assuming the entire population uses media as they do — what Wolk calls “Nascar Blindness.” Wolk wrote, and we can barely keep a straight face reading it, “Ad people and their friends don’t watch a lot of TV and, when they do, they often watch it via On Demand, iTunes, DVRs and even DVDs. So the natural assumption is that no one else is watching TV, either, that TV is dead and that the popularity of shows like American Idol, How I Met Your Mother, Desperate Housewives and Dancing With the Stars is some sort of fluke fueled by elderly Midwestern couples whose children have neglected to buy them iMacs.”

Wolk’s point is worth a bookmark if your digital agency claims the :30 second spot is dead. Online and mobile devices have emerged as core components of any media plan — yet don’t forget all the new flat-panel TVs in basements, or radios on long auto commutes, being put to good use. The question for your agency is if old formats of media are still thriving, how do the various new pieces fit in context?

Via Thomas Miskin.

Syfy wins the great rebranding debate

When Sci Fi rebranded to Syfy in mid-2009 with more diverse drama content for women, fans were aghast. But the cable network is having the last laugh with ratings for women 25-54 up, new ad dollars flowing in from Hershey’s and BMW, and a leap over Lifetime in the coveted prime time slot. We’ve been debating ad guru Bill Green for a while over why we liked the rebranding, and responded to his it’s-still-wrong post today with this:

Bill, I called this back in March 2009. I think what you missed is cable TV networks don’t exist to serve content to audiences; they exist to serve *audiences* to advertisers. Syfy had to find a new audience because the old one was leaving cable TV.

You raise a good point that cable nets risk diluting their value if they broaden content too far. But think about the audience. Science fiction fans skew young and male, the earliest adopters of technology — and a wave of eyeballs leaving traditional cable TV. You seem to be a sci-fi fan. Do you spend hours in front of cable, Bill, or a computer? Young men also often have less income (since wealth is a function of age) and are focused on a limited product set (gizmos, cars, razors). Women of all stripes, on the other hand, account for 80% of discretionary spending, buy everything for the household, and are a sweet audience to serve to advertisers. Older women are more likely to have higher incomes, another draw for marketers.

I wouldn’t blame Syfy for leaving its fans. I’d fess up, and blame Sci Fi’s original fans for leaving it. TLC did the same thing a few years back (um, remember “The Learning Channel” human anatomy shows? All gone now.). If you ran a cable net and saw forecasts of your audience going out the door, the smartest thing to do is go find another audience. Syfy, very well played.

The challenge for Comcast’s web TV = ads

One gigantic fear within the cable industry is the migration of consumers to watching television on the web — via services such as Hulu — will undermine their lucrative subscription model. After all, why pay $150 a month for cable if you get shows for free online? So the obvious defense is to entangle cable subscribers to watch their cable TV on the web as well. The cable industry is hyping this with a so-called TV Everywhere movement.

Comcast is the latest cable provider rolling out a national web TV service, called Fancast XFINITY TV. The service will give free Comcast cable content on the web to any authenticated cable subscriber (at first to only subscribers of both Comcast cable and Internet service, and in about 6 months opening up to any Comcast cable users).

But the ads, dear, are heavy.

There’s a tiny problem — analysts don’t know if users will accept the “full advertising load” of cable programming in an online format., for instance, has compressed ads to 15-second formats and shows only 2 minutes of commercials per 30 minutes of programming vs. the 8 minutes typically shown on a TV set. With online users able to immediately click away at the first sign of boredom, Comcast and other cable giants have two huge hurdles: first, get users to their online TV portals, and second, hope the commercial load of old TV models doesn’t make web users touch that dial. Nielsen has reported that consumers’ “concurrent media use” spikes when spots air on traditional live television; good luck avoiding such switches online when they have a mouse in hand.

In a way, cable companies and broadcasters are to blame for this dilemma. The load of commercials has been increasing ever since Bulova ran the world’s first TV spot, a 10-second ad, in 1941. An average hour of U.S. television now includes only 42 minutes of real programming, down from 51 minutes in the 1960s — meaning that any reruns from that period must be cut by 9 minutes. Television commercials now take up twice the time they once did. If consumers rebel online, perhaps it’s because commercials have gone too far.

Image: Spoon

Now playing on your TV: Twitter and addressable ads

TVs are getting smarter, and while we’re cautious about dropping $2,000 on a big box that may have outdated technology in 2 years, we like the looks of Samsung’s new sets — which include widget apps that run things like Twitter. Samsung says that by summer it will include Netflix and Amazon apps as well, allowing users to download HD movies.

Cable companies aren’t taking this disintermediation lying down, though. Canoe, a venture of six of the largest U.S. cable operators, announced that within 6 weeks it will launch so-called “addressable advertising,” or the ability for one national advertiser to run different spots on TV sets at the same time in different parts of the country. The initial cut is a little rough — the first “Community Addressable Messaging” initiative would allow two creative 30-second spots to run, one reaching 42 million homes and the other 18 million. Eventually Canoe plans to enable customizable TV spots into every home that uses cable. There’s also a nice data collection play here, too — since Canoe could track exactly how many people see the different versions of each spot.

Which would be great, except some consumers may now skip cable to download films from Netflix or Amazon directly.

TV and print push kids to the web

If you have children you know they are drawn to anything web related. We can hardly get our iPhone away from the wee ones. So it’s no surprise that MRI reports children 6-11 leap to the internet to research products they see in offline ads. About 46% of kids report they visited a web site they first heard about in a commercial. Within those numbers, the skew tends to older kids 10-11 who have more access to the net and sophistication.

The implication goes beyond children for marketers who often segment media plans and examine inquiries from each channel — TV vs. radio vs. print vs. web banners vs. SEM — as if they were separate Olympians competing for a gold medal in Greece. That’s a mistake, since one media channel may feed another. Broadcast and print still work to build awareness, and then the web captures the curious as they explore for more information. Integrating your measurement to capture the impact of all media touchpoints won’t be easy, but until you do, don’t turn off the TV.

$100k homes use more DVRs. Don’t touch that remote!

Speaking of video shifts, Mediaweek reports that more than half of U.S. homes taking in $100,000+ in income subscribe to time-shifting DVR devices: those black boxes that allow you to record a TV show, play it back later, and potentially skip over the commercials. The Mediaweek headline is a little misleading — it is not true that “more than half of $100k homes time shift” since we suspect many consumers have a hard time with the damn remote controls. But the trend among the most affluent consumers is definitely worth watching.

Discovery launches Planet Green with $100 million muscle

Discovery launches Planet Green tonight at 6 p.m., the first cable network devoted entirely to eco-friendly messaging. Big advertisers such as GM have jumped aboard, and the 250 hours of original programming will have a decidedly popcorn-friendly twist. No Love Your Mother fluff here: instead, monster trucks compete with each other (showcasing big rigs with hybrid engines), investors flip property for profit (showcasing green redesign), and homeowners compete to see who can wring the most juice out of the sun (showcasing solar tech).

Discovery is betting huge, putting $100 million into the idea that consumers will want to be entertained with a green vibe. We sense a hit. With Prius sales over 1 million and consumers reluctantly walking away from Ford F-150s, Discovery combines Americans’ concerns over the environment with our lust for power and aggression.

Program details here, channel finder here.

(Photo: Dark Patator)

Now your TV will watch you

Here’s a shock for advertisers who rely on Nielsen ratings data.

Adweek reports that Tracey Scheppach of Starcom found 25% of all viewing on the Charter Cable system in Los Angeles is on networks not broken out by Nielsen ratings. On the media planning side, this is horrific — a bit akin to finding out your bank had misplaced 25% of your money. Yikes.

For example, back in October 2007, 1 of the top 10 networks viewed was Jade — a Chinese cultural channel not listed by Nielsen. Scheppach’s data came directly from set-top cable boxes, new technology that records exactly what consumers watch when and promises to give advertisers better data and targeting.

On the targeting side, advertisers will soon be able to run different commercials at the same time on the same cable channels based on your past viewing profile. One test in Alabama found viewer ad skipping (that is, changing channels during the break) fell 38% with personalized ads.

Just try explaining it to your wife when your TV begins dishing up ads for Playboy merchandise, fellows.

New Bluefly ads cause a rumpus on TV, the online retailer of designer threads, launches new TV spots tonight showing, ahem, the problem of having nothing to wear. We’re old enough to remember when televised bra commercials caused controversy. Now, we get complete curves strolling through airport security.

This is more than the continuation of Bluefly’s raunch (prior ads have showns sculpted couples getting busy); it’s a trend. If online videos of nudity are everywhere, offline TV is going to catch up. And as more consumers migrate off traditional broadcast, advertisers are going to take greater risks to shock the audience into paying attention.

The curious may tune in at 10 p.m. tonight on Bravo’s Project Runway.