While Rome Burns

The live vs. live-plus-seven days of recorded playback viewing issue seems to have resolved itself. Thank goodness.

Yet, in reading my former ABC colleague and the current NBC president of research and media development, Alan Wurtzel’s comments in Adweek sister publication Mediaweek a couple of weeks ago, a much larger issue surfaced.

Once again, it appears our industry is battling over a new development in measuring audiences, rather than working together to find a solution that does what the technology and research is supposed to do—advance the advertiser’s ability to value the worth of their investment on nationally broadcast advertising. It’s not about the death of the :30 commercial. It’s about keeping life in the :30 commercial.

We all know that our current audience measurement system is a less than perfect system. Unfortunately, that is the currency of our industry. Rather than beat that old issue to death, let’s talk about another flaw and a proposed solution.

I believe there is an inherent flaw in the content providers’ and advertisers’ relationship. Content providers are most interested in measuring audiences. They want to place as many impressions into the bucket as some logic (and Nielsen) will allow. Advertisers are most interested in selling their products and services. They want to spend their dollars to increase sales and services in the most effective and efficient way possible. And therein lies the problem that relates to issues such as DVR live vs. DVR-plus-seven.

While the marketplace sustained this flaw over the past 50 years, it won’t going forward.

When the networks discuss Millward Brown studies on commercial skipping and don’t involve the media services industry, they are spending money that suits their purpose—more impressions.

What they don’t spend any money on is measuring the ability of that ad to get someone to buy the advertised product. In this year’s upfront, we are seeing some movement towards acknowledging that need, and I applaud that. We need a lot more.

Every time the content providers add impressions, they raise their ROI, as their ROI is the cost of a :30 announcement or some derivative of 30 seconds. Additional impressions, additional dollars, additional ROI to the content provider.

But in the vacuum that is any meaningful research that measures the purchase of a product based on the viewing of a television ad, those additional impressions increase the risk to the advertiser and lower their ROI, which is already very difficult (at best) to measure.

So, we battle—or content providers do something potentially more damaging to the partnership. They look for ways to generate additional revenues to offset the decline of advertising dollars.

Rather than invest in research that can prove the ROI of a television ad (and we know it’s there) and increase ad spending, they invest in technology to tap consumer dollars that may or may not have advertising.

Currently, there is more money spent by consumers on video gaming and theatrical releases than advertisers spend in the upfront. In total, consumers spend more money on content than advertisers do on television ads. So it seems the content provider would rather tap that consumer spending pot than grow (or stop the drain on) ad spending. A slippery slope. Yes, there are many experiments going on among many content providers and advertisers and their media services agency, but they are not collaborative. The content provider creates them and takes them to market. Some are embraced, some not. None are scalable enough to offset the drain of ad spending for national television. I’m not sure they ever will be. I have sat in a number of cross-platform meetings with content providers, and two things emerge.

One: It’s the wild, wild West. No two meetings are the same, many companies are feeling their way around and lots of man hours are being spent by agencies sorting through these offerings.

Two: For the most part, they are talking “at” the agency, not “with” the agency. “Here’s our application,” not, “How can we create this to maximize your investment, and our joint learnings?”

Let’s recall that the first evolution of the Internet had little if any advertiser/agency input. It’s taken seven years, lots of advertiser input and a mind-numbing amount of technological advances to turn that tide. Internet advertising spending is increasing dramatically. “Traditional” advertising is not nearly keeping pace.

Two weeks ago, there was a wonderful opportunity to collaborate—the D4: All Things Digital conference in San Diego. Yet, only two-thirds of the influencers of communication and marketing were there. Content providers and technology. No advertisers. No media services agencies. Was it an oversight? Do the advertisers not matter? Do we not get it? Or do the D4 attendees not think about how important it is to have marketers in the conversation?

I’d like to suggest a solution: Let’s create a research partnership using some of the resources the content providers are currently spending on finding other consumer generated revenue streams, and the resources of the agencies trying to understand the connection between a :30 spot and sales of our clients’ products and services.

Rather than watch Rome burn, or have advertisers and content providers learn how to live without each other, let’s work together on figuring out how to use the power of the national broadcast and the power of new technology to continue to do what advertisers need—get people to buy stuff.