Holy double-tasking, Batman. ABC has launched a new iPad app that automatically syncs with your television show by picking up an audio signal, and then dishes up additional content via the tablet in your lap.
The clever app takes advantage of the growing trend of concurrent media usage, where consumers watch multiple screens at the same time (think of a teen with smart phone in hand watching a movie in your basement). Nielsen’s three-screen studies, which use direct observation of consumers in 10-second increments to see what they watch when, have found people are (gasp) extremely likely to look away from TV sets during commercial breaks, instead picking up magazines, cell phones or laptops. The only way to keep those viewers engaged in the marketing messages that fund most televised content is to gain share of another media channel. ABC, way to grab eyeball shelf space.
Jay Leno’s audience at NBC has fallen sharply in the past year since he moved to the 10 p.m. slot. While this would seem good news for his rivals, a few numbers should strike fear into other TV networks’ hearts:
– Leno is down 1.8 ratings points (that is, 1.8% of all U.S. television households have stopped watching Leno).
– DVR use in the same hour is up 1.4 ratings points.
Hmm. What those numbers mean is a population the size of Phoenix or Philadelphia has stopped watching NBC at night, and instead replaced it with Digital Video Recorders. David Poltrack, CBS’ chief research executive, told the AP that the DVR trend was “a little bit higher than we thought” — a result of the one-third of all U.S. homes with TiVo-style devices learning to catch up on shows they missed. Since Leno appears to be boring people, consumers are using the 10-11 p.m. window before bedtime to play back better stuff. Will they use DVRs to skip commercials, too?
Just wait until the web gets in the basement
DVR use hasn’t taken off yet; they’re more of a ticking bomb for advertisers sitting in consumers’ basements. Nielsen reported this spring that U.S. consumers still watch only 15 minutes of DVR-recorded television a day, vs. 5 hours and 9 minutes of the live thing. But Leno’s slide shows how fast consumers can change their behavior, and they soon will have even more temptation to avoid broadcast networks. TV manufacturers are beginning to sell flat-panel sets with internet access, and 48% of consumers report they would consider purchasing one in the next 12 months. When the web marries TV, a million alternatives to Jay Leno will be just a click away.
Image: Roo Reynolds
One of the more interesting defenses against consumers tuning out advertising is when advertisers cut back on the ads themselves. A few years back, Clear Channel was forced to retrench on the minutes of radio commercials per hour after it realized consumers were aghast at spot overload so switched the dial, hurting ratings. More recently Hulu.com launched its online video format with a similar less-is-more ad structure, with minimal paid interruptions.
Now big broadcast boy ABC is cutting back as well, reducing television commercials in its premiere episodes and not starting most spots until 15 minutes into the show. Jeff Bader, ABC Entertainment’s scheduling chief, told the Los Angeles Times “you hope the longer you keep them at the start of the show, the more likely they are to stick to it.” The gripping “Flash Forward,” which premieres this Thursday night, may go as long as 18 minutes before a commercial break.
A history of polluted networks
The tragedy of the commons is something marketers typically fail to think about until it’s too late. Telemarketing was the first victim, becoming so obnoxious that consumers eventually rebelled with the Do Not Call lists, almost killing the industry. Email spam became a joke with filters blocking most messages and a response rate something like 1 in 12.5 million. Now social media risks the same network counter-reaction: paid messages in blogs and tweets — not advertising, but paid opinions in which people profess to write what they want about a brand while being paid to do it — are coming from companies such as Izea, and we predict new filters will arise to block out the confusion. If such fuzzy sponsorships go too far, the utility of the network will be diminished, and all users, including marketers, may suffer the consequences.
Want proof? Try to set up a telemarketing program today, and let us know how well it works.
What advertisers fail to realize is we all need a healthy ecosystem for any communication to work. It’s not easy showing restraint, because you’re betting the lost revenue of today will be replaced by more viewers, and more resulting ad sales, tomorrow. But if advertising is kept inside its box, clearly marked with limits on how much time it consumes, consumers in turn will be more likely to pay attention and respond. As media planners, we find the ABC strategy intriguing … because the marketing messages that do get included are likely to break through.