Update Your Legacy Mindset About Media and Embrace TV Convergence

Linear, OTT and CTV—it’s all TV to viewers

In today’s media buying and selling ecosystem, the idea that connected TV, OTT and linear TV are the same is considered controversial, believe it or not.

But forget the jargon and ask yourself a simple question: If a consumer watches a great program on linear television, why is that same consumer watching the same show worth less just because they’re watching on a connected device or on their computer?

For the industry, the newest media typically requires more justification than existing media. However, for consumers, there’s no difference between CTV, OTT and linear TV. People watch their favorite content and they don’t care how the infrastructure delivering that show has changed.

Marketers should follow the consumer’s lead and lean into the idea that CTV and OTT are TV. The sooner the industry breaks away from legacy thinking, the sooner marketers will be able to tap into the true value of the convergent TV audience.

The dangers of legacy thinking

So, why is it so difficult to break legacy thinking about TV? There are plenty of incentives to prop up the walls of the old model, and there’s also a long history of penalizing new media as it emerges.

It took radio decades to evolve into mass communication. Still, during those formative years, buyers and sellers of print media penalized radio by making apples-to-oranges comparisons about audience metrics. In the 1950s as TV emerged, audiences switched from listening to their favorite shows to watching them. And of course, the advent of cable threatened linear television until the late 1990s, when cable “proved its niche demographics and reach.” We’ve recently seen digital undervalued: first with desktop and mobile, and now through the broadband era with the rise of streaming and CTV.

The industry continues to hold new media to a different standard. And, in doing so, it sets two different values for the same consumer.

Advertisers place undue focus on our immediate needs looking for the perfect solution, all at the expense of missing millions of target consumers. In this case, the millions who consume video on non-linear means.

Meeting new media viewers where they are

Next, we should devote our collective efforts to improve consumer content discovery. Finding your favorite shows is a big issue for consumers today with multitudes of streaming services and apps, plus cable and linear TV. Advertisers and media companies need to understand how consumers make their choices, rather than drawing arbitrary distinctions between a clip viewed in a digital context vs. one seen “in-show.”

And don’t forget, premium content is in the eye of the beholder. If you start from the premise that consumers don’t distinguish between TV and CTV/OTT/digital video, then industry distinctions about premium content miss the mark. Take YouTube cat videos, everyone’s favorite poke at digital content. Our industry devalues those audiences because of the legacy model. But tens of millions of people love cat videos and make daily appointments to view that content. To them, cat videos are the Super Bowl of premium video.

To move forward, we need to see what consumers see. With so many content choices, the real value occurs wherever the consumer makes the appointment to watch.

Prende TV, a new streaming service from Univision, effectively erases geographic barriers to Spanish-language content by providing free access to previously unavailable premium Spanish-language content from around the world. Meanwhile, Pluto TV and Tubi deliver seamless content discovery while giving consumers and advertisers choice and control. These examples represent progress because they all have one thing in common: They derive their value by placing the consumer’s needs ahead of whatever penalties the advertising industry places on new media.

Growth in change

To understand how the new media penalty sends us further away from the consumer, look no further than the disparity between CTV consumption and advertising spend. It only captures 4% of overall media budgets but 80% of viewers. In the U.S., CTV viewers in 2020 totaled 45.7 million for Gen Z; 56.5 million for Millennials; 48.5 million for Gen X; and 32.8 million for Baby Boomers. CTV spending grew 25% last year and its growth continues to accelerate. Despite this, 60% of advertisers don’t spend on CTV.

Correcting this disparity should be the focus. Instead, many marketers continue to balk at the idea of exploring new media advertising opportunities while continuing to chase a single measurement metric across all video media forms. Our industry is obsessed with this dream, but it’s just that—a dream. We must accept today’s landscape and stop trying to retrofit by coming up with a new measurement to replace the gross rating point (GRP).

There doesn’t need to be a single measurement across platforms. There will always be walled gardens of audience, data and programming. A new walled garden blooms whenever there is an innovation in digital (e.g., Snapchat, TikTok, Roku).

The business of media is to drive the incrementality of all the different solutions and surround the consumer with the proper messaging. To break the legacy mindset, marketers need to follow the consumer’s lead and understand that it’s all TV. In today’s world, appointment TV is dictated by when and what the consumer watches. Let’s buy media against them that way.

Scott Schiller, the global chief commercial officer of ENGINE, a media and marketing services company, is a well-known media sales executive. Schiller is a co-founder of the IAB and adjunct assistant professor at the NYU Stern School of Business.