March 30, 2009

Facts Still Matter: The Death And Life Of Television

The New York Times, March 26, 2009: “Even though people have the opportunity to watch video on their computers and cellphones, TV accounts for 99 percent of all video consumed in 2008..."
This is a story about a story. A story that has been repeated so many times, in so many places, with so much zeal, that it has taken on a life of its own -- despite the fact that it is false.

The theme of the story is that television is dying.

It is a story built on shabby journalism, ad industry buffoonery, and the willful suspension of skepticism on a scale unprecedented during my time in the advertising business.

This story has been advanced by a gullible press, confused advertising and marketing executives, web promoters, and careless pundits caught in a feedback loop of such proportions that it's possible it has done serious harm to the media and advertising industries.

Last week, in a remarkable turn of events, the story was exposed as a complete fraud.

Live television has proven to be astonishingly, amazingly dominant.

In "the largest observational look at media usage ever conducted" researchers at Ball State University’s Center for Media Design, found the following:

  • 99% of video viewing was done on a television in the past year.
  • Less than 5% of TV viewing was DVR (TiVo) playback.
  • YouTube, Hulu, iPhone and all other web and cellphone media combined accounted for less than 1% of video viewing
The wonderful thing about this study is that it isn't the typical "self-reported" nonsense. This is actual observed behavior.

If that's not enough...
  • Since ad-skipping among DVR users occurs about half the time, fewer than 3% of total ads are being missed because of ad skipping.
  • TV viewing has risen at least 7% since 2000 which means the positive effect of more TV viewing is double the negative effect of DVR ad-skipping.
Let's see how these facts stack up against a tiny sampling of the commentary on this subject:

From TechCrunch, November 2006 "Let's Just Declare TV Dead And Move On"
...the writing is on the the end of the day, people want to consume content without the friction of having to sit down in front of a television at an appointed time....People want to see the whole show on YouTube. There is a fundamental shift in consumer behavior going on...
From Wired, April 2007: "The TV Is Dead. Long Live The TV"
"Traditional TV won't be here in seven to 10 years...It's changing so fast that I don't know if it's even going to be that long."
From The Telegraph, 2007, "TV Is Dying Says Google Expert"
One of the founding fathers of the internet has predicted the end of traditional television....Vint Cerf, who helped to build the internet... said...that viewers would soon be downloading most of their favourite programmes onto their computers.
From Ad Age, 2008, "TiVo CEO Says End Is Nigh for TV Ads"
TiVo CEO Tom Rogers did everything but hang an "end is near" sign around his neck... with warnings of fast-approaching doom for conventional TV ads... "Probably two thirds or more of the households advertisers care about reaching will be fast forwarding through television ads..."

Unfortunately, we don't have room for all 124,000 citations Google has for "TV is dead."

The Ad Contrarian
has been screaming for years (okay, a year and a half) about the falseness of this pervasive story.

The people advancing this "narrative" live in a bubble of people-like-them. They are mesmerized by the web. They are suffering from nascar blindness. They have lost their perspective.

How will this new study change things? Not one bit.
  • These people are so heavily invested in their story that facts don't matter to them anymore. They will respond to this study the way they have responded to every contradictory piece of factual evidence for 5 years, "...just wait, you'll see..."
  • This study will disappear from view in a week. The advertising agency business is too solidly committed to the fraud. They'll just bury this report and hope their clients don't see it.
  • There is not one CMO in the world who will go back to his management and say, "I was wrong. I got swept up in the hysteria. TV is kicking ass. It's different from how it used to be, but it's kicking ass. Instead of wasting our money chasing rainbows we need to figure out how to use TV more effectively."
The story will live on.

What should we do about this?

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