Monday

The Future of Television with the Same Challenges



You know when television has crossed the Rubicon from a traditional box of analogue content to a multiplatform black box of digital video when the first moderator at the recent DMW Future of Television conference (Vertere’s Tim Hanlon) explained his background as coming from "the medium formerly known as television."

It confirmed to me the general acceptance of television’s changing market position but also led to some uneasy questions: Since consumers are the drivers of change, are we as an industry leading from behind? If television is indeed transitioning, why do we cleave to legacy measurement? Will we be able to hold onto television ad dollars or will it erode as the landscape becomes more digitized? How can we better monetize all the new technological opportunities? How can we best harness big data so that it reveals the true story?

While these are not new questions, we are still waiting for answers.

"Is it the best of times or the worst of times for television?” Hanlon began, “Is it a vast cornucopia of choice, quality content or it is at the edge of a nervous breakdown with financial models, the illegalities of peer sharing and unmeasured audiences?" For those on the content side such as Matt Diamond of Defy Media and Roy Sekoff of Huffpost Live, the answer was resoundingly positive – it is absolutely the best of times. But for those on the buy and sell side, such DigitasLBi's John McCarus who is grappling with monetization under fire, “It is the best of times but with dark clouds." The uncertainties of living with change and the slow progress on entrenched challenges continue to vex and increasingly worry the traditional sectors of our industry.

Predictions are rampant. Diamond predicted that “The consumer wants choice either in an internet minute or a radio decade. Consumers will win out. You don't need a cord to watch. It will be choice so eventually all will be a la carte.” CBS’ David Poltrack said, “We are adding dynamic ad insertion so an ad can be schedule close to the point of sale. That is where we are going as an industry. We are making our medium more effective.” But Sekoff noted that,” We have not made the next great leap forward in advertising. We are still talking about 30 second pre-roll and you can't have that before a six second vine.”

As for me, the issue of measurement looms large. We still use the proxy of age and gender to transact in television when, with the expansion and convergence of big data sets and innovative systems to data blend, we could target much more efficiently.  And with the roll out of smart TVs, it is expected that the entire television household universe will be digitized in the next few years. So why then the measurement stasis?

Howard Shimmel of Turner put it into context, “We have a huge challenge in the TV (measurement) space. We typically use historical data to predict the future. Basing it on age and sex is ridiculous; Lady Gaga and Sara Palin are both W25-54.” On the buy side, Jonathan Boker of MediaVest saw the challenge in the silo’d nature of the industry and to some extent, the data. “You can't shovel attributes off one platform into another. It doesn't work. The TV platform and its underlying technology is different from IT platform.” From the sell side, Shimmel concurred, “How do we put new data into our current infrastructure? We structured our inventory according to age and gender. Now, how do we do it with target segments? We struggle with doing that in scale. We license some outside technology that plugs into our infrastructure. In concept it is wonderful. But in practice it is not simple.”

Since the user interfaces are different, it can impact usage. Linda Ong of TruthCo noted that content choices are reached differently depending upon the platform; “You can’t channel surf on an iPad as you do with a TV.” She continued, “We use psychographics. Breaking Bad viewers have more of a common sensibility which is not necessarily related to age or gender.”

It may be a matter of continuing to allow the advancement of technology to wend its way through the various industry silos until a commonly accepted solution can be developed. But in the meantime we scramble to find temporary solutions while leaving money on the table and allowing certain industry sectors to either entropy and erode or lie fallow. But what may arguably be the biggest risk is disenfranchising clients, as Allison Dollar of the interactive Television Alliance stated, “We are tired of being promised things that are not delivered.”

Yes, indeed.

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