Media Zone: So Many TV Choices, So Little Time

Media Zone
Peter Feinstein

What’s your favorite television show? The answer may not be so straightforward, unless you’re like me. I have one favorite: Top Chef.

But I’ve got another five or six shows that I enjoy when Top Chef is off the air, plus another 10-to-12 shows I try to watch if I don’t have other plans.

And then there is the uncounted number of shows I might watch if all I had was time. That list grows just about every week. My wife and I will have dinner with my son and daughter-in-law, or friends, and they’ll tell us about the newest shows they found on HBO, Showtime, Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Amazon Fire. You get the idea, right?

Of course, none of this includes live sports. I watch live baseball. (Yes, I am old school.) Also hockey and basketball — and, of course, college and NFL football.

So my one simple question has a long, complex answer that gives rise to other questions, including:

  • How much TV can you realistically watch?
  • How do you decide what to watch live vs. DVR or on-demand?
  • What impact does on-demand have on what you watch and when?
  • How much does content quality play into your viewing choices?

The parade of questions could be endless, but my space is limited. My point is that legitimate, high-quality video content is widely available — so much so that I don’t think there are enough hours in a day to watch everything that captures my interest. And I’m just one old-school guy who watches a fair amount of TV — but less than nearly everyone I know and far less than some of the daily and weekly averages I’ve seen quoted in various trade publications.

The picture, forgive the pun, gets even murkier when you consider that even better-than-average content is available virtually everywhere, at any time, online or from mobile apps. And it isn’t necessarily tied to satellite or cable, even though either of those services may be the gateway necessary to accessing a lot of anywhere TV.

So we have some really interesting dynamics at play here: virtually unlimited high-quality content — available live, time-shifted, or on-demand, from a cable or satellite box, over-the-top (OTT) device, or mobile app. Never mind all the subpar video that eats up even more viewing time. With all these possibilities, combined with the limited time we have available to actually watch, we’re left with the reality that people are making some significant viewing choices.

It’s in examining these choices, and understanding demographics, that TV/video entertainment gets kind of fun. Brand managers for key consumer products such as soda, chips, beer, and fast food will tell you that consumers form brand preferences in their teens (or earlier) as long as they understand the messaging. It’s with that in mind that I can categorically state that for the time being, linear TV remains the best place for you to spend your ad money and realistically have hope for a positive return-on-investment (ROI).

Linear TV’s decline has been slow and incremental — not a steep free-fall. That could change, and likely will, not long from now. It would be a simple function of demographics and how today’s youngsters are taught to consume video entertainment. They will, on some level, follow in the footsteps of their parents — as much from force as desire — with more radical departures likely to happen as they enter their tweens and teens. I’ve seen it happen — first with myself, then with my son, and now with the young but growing kids of my friends. It’s inevitable.

That poses some significant challenges for ad agencies and brands in trying to predict where to place media for maximum efficiency and effect — not so much for today as for next year, two years, and five years down the road. Our mission isn’t to gnash our teeth at what’s coming; it’s to invent strategies that assure the success of our clients, no matter what media we’re choosing for them.

That requires brainpower, education, and training. Our industry needs intelligent, well-educated people who possess the ability to think critically, ask the toughest questions, and seek answers that will provide our clients with maximum value — no matter whether it’s from broadcast, cable, satellite, OTT, apps, or online.

Think back to 1992, when Bruce Springsteen wrote and recorded 57 Channels (and Nothin’ On). I bet you laughed at the reference to 57 channels; I did. Now think about where we are today, and you’ll recognize the shift that’s coming tomorrow. We’re confronted with more than a thousand options and are responsible for helping our clients navigate through these waters to safety and a positive ROI. ■