Archive for the ‘Digital’ Category

BACK TO EARTH AFTER PLANET IBC

October 16th, 2012

I’m currently sitting in Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, waiting for my flight back to London after a couple of fun days at the IBC Conference, mixing with the tech community. I’ve only ever attended IBC twice before – across twelve or so years – but it never ceases to amaze me by its scale (at least twelve exhibition halls and over fifty thousand attendees) and also its consistency in constantly claiming the death of everything in the wake of the great god Digital. It was only last year that one of IBC’s keynote speakers – ex Channel 4 Chairman Luke Johnson – was predicting the imminent demise of broadcast television.

Except this year felt a little different.

I had been invited to be part of the connected television debate. The motion was that “connected television will make traditional channels irrelevant”. You can guess which side of the debate I was asked to take!

My first instinct was that it was a set-up; surely –given all the evidence – nobody still believes in this death-obsessed replacement narrative any more, do they? Then I remembered it was IBC. Along with my debating team mates – John Honeycutt of Discovery Channels and Nigel Walley of Decipher – I prepared my arguments convinced it was a lost cause; I felt a bit like George Osborne before he presented the Paralympics medals.

But then a strange thing happened. Our session chairman asked for a show of hands before the debate got under way, to establish the benchmark opinion on the topic. To my amazement, far more hands went up to signify the traditional channels will maintain their position, about 3-4 times as many as those who thought the traditional channels would become irrelevant.

In true IBC tradition, we didn’t change many minds; when the post-debate show of hands was called for, almost exactly the same people voted for exactly the same propositions. However, when asked who gave the most convincing arguments, the vast majority voted for our team. I can honestly say, that was the first formal debate I’ve ever won in my life!

It was made easier by our opponents, who seemed to focus their argument on the hypothesis that everything is changing so of course the traditional channels must fall by the wayside, with no firm evidence to support their case, other than “the internet figures are going up all the time”. This is something I have been constantly frustrated by ever since I started to make a career out of defending television – the world of digital, despite being so data-rich, relies so much on this tired and redundant argument; X is growing so it must replace Y.  It has a similar feel to it to that famous paean to wishful thinking – “if we build it, they will come” – that infected so many new media business plans before the first dotcom crash.

Our surprising victory wasn’t an outlying blip, either. In all of the other sessions I attended, there was a tacit realisation that digital innovation will have to work within the existing eco-system, rather than as an alternative. TV didn’t appear to be seen as the great enemy any longer, but as a potential business opportunity that could best be realised by working with the main broadcast players rather than against them. And, as with most eco-systems, the whole will almost certainly be greater than the sum of the parts, and digital can be used to enhance rather than compete with ingrained, valued human experiences.

So, hats off to IBC and here’s to a future where the traditional will co-exist with the new and we can concentrate on growth rather than the battle for world domination. This may be the start of the process leading to such debates finally becoming irrelevant.

RESPONSE, BRAND-BUILDING & THE AD BREAK OF THE FUTURE

October 16th, 2012

 

If we ever stop to think about it, one of the most remarkable aspects of the digital revolution is how much people are prepared to sit through advertising, even though most of them now have the technology to edit all broadcast ads out of their lives. When TiVo first became a reality, it was naturally assumed that people would use it primarily as an ad avoidance device, almost obliterating the 30 second spot overnight.

Of course, that never happened, and even today DTRs actually contribute to more viewing to TV commercials at normal speed. Despite DTRs being in more than half of UK households now, commercial impacts have grown by almost 20% across the last five years.

This is the one element of the TV ‘story’ against which I get most bounce-back, even though there is now a torrent of consistent data to prove it is the case. Fundamentally, people are watching more TV ads than ever before despite the array of alternatives they have for avoiding them.

The strength of the broadcast schedule (people still usually look for what’s on now before they consult with their planners or players) and a sense of inertia help. Also, as we heard from the Thinkbox research last week, 2-screening is helping to improve engagement in the advertising, although it is still a minority activity. The big question is; will things stay this way?

I happen to believe that broadcasters – and agencies – will have to work harder in future to keep this audience. Their implicit agreement to remain present and tuned in to the commercial breaks has to be nurtured, because the range of options to find something else to do for that precious few minutes is increasing all the time.

That is why initiatives like Channel 4’s themed breaks and ‘event’ breaks like the Honda sky-dive are to be encouraged. These tend to create a sense of occasion, increase engagement and keep viewers tuned in. We need more of this sort of innovation than ever before, otherwise audiences will begin to drift off.

This could actually snowball quite quickly, because there is another consequence of 2-screening that has already had a huge impact on TV advertising. Online offers a brilliant response channel for TV advertising and the rise in tablets and smartphones are only going to make it more powerful and effective. The danger, from my perspective, is that response starts to take over, the ads become unwatchable (or the calls to action become more irritating) and the audience starts to flick over to that 3 minute YouTube compilation on their connected sets, before you can say “go to www….”.

It’s already started to happen in off-peak. I’ve seen breaks recently that are 100% response- every ad with an entreaty to call this number, visit this website, enter this competition with a simple text NOW! That will teach me to watch Jeremy Kyle.

Since TV became a point-of-sale medium, and its role in influencing online response was finally acknowledged, there has been a transformation in its fortunes. It achieved a record share of the advertising cake over the past two years. Much of the new money has come from the online industry itself, which is now edging towards 10% of total TV spend. It is estimated that two thirds of all TV ads have some form of call to action.

The big question is whether this is going to be instead of brand-building or in conjunction with it. It should be the latter – strong, creative branding has both a short-term impact on response but a much longer-term effect on profitability and price sensitivity. However, in times of recession, there is always a temptation to go for the former.

If it is the latter, and brands do invest in building the brands as well as creating response, TV companies are going to have to find ways of harvesting that response, and at the same time keeping those viewers engaged with the rest of the ad break. They will need to find ever more innovative ways to keep a restless audience entertained. That, I think, is achievable, if the ads themselves do their job.

If, however, TV becomes one big call to action, with all of the creative deficiencies that usually implies, then there may not be an audience around to respond.

TRANS-EURO EXPRESS

October 16th, 2012

I have been presenting a great deal in mainland Europe over the past year or so, and I have to say that I am having some of my preconceptions challenged by what is going on over there.

One of the major benefits of a career in media research in the UK is that, on most indicators, we have the most digitally advanced market in the world and the levels of creativity and innovation used to harness digital technology for marketing purposes has been well recognised. Most European broadcasters would accept that the UK is a year or two ahead in most respects, and they are interested in what we are doing here as a result.

Things are beginning to change, though, and the UK could learn a thing or two about what is happening elsewhere in Europe.

For example, I presented in Poland recently and saw firsthand some of the creative solutions that are being presented to advertisers to enable them to more effectively integrate into TV content. It rivalled many of the case studies I have seen from the UK demonstrating how broadcasters, agencies and brands can work together.

Or take Italy. Since Silvio Berlusconi loosened his grip on Italian politics, many of the regulatory restrictions he placed on digital development to protect his analogue-era media powerhouses are being dismantled, leading to a technology-led transformation of the TV experience (according to a recent New York Times article) and a significant shift in viewing from the cocooned Mediaset channels to quality alternatives such as Discovery Channels, which has recently launched two free-to-air channels. The Italian experience shows just how quickly the market can change once digital regulation is opened up and competition, creativity and innovation are unleashed.

Sweden provides a very different example, which also offers potential lessons for UK media. The Swedish market is one of the most technologically advanced in the world, but the advertising powerhouse is considered to be good old-fashioned newspapers. This is because Swedes pride themselves on their education levels and interest in the world around them, and newspaper readership is considered a symbol of these values. It is also in large part due to the power of the local press to service the significant local advertising industry in Sweden; the leading free-to-air broadcasters have invested in dozens of localised transmissions to take a share of those local revenues from an estimated 36,000 potential advertisers.

The local advertising market in the UK has always been considered hardly worth bothering with, especially as television advertising opportunities for local advertisers significantly reduced with the pulling back of ITV’s regional franchise system. I think this is a lost opportunity and offers one of the few substantive opportunities for addressability. I’m generally sceptical about how important addressability will become, but unlocking the regional and local advertising opportunities that still exist could be a simple yet valuable solution to a revenue challenge.

 

 

CONNECTED, CONVERGED…AND NO LONGER CONFUSED!

October 16th, 2012

Last week, I had the pleasure of presenting at the EGTA (European Group of Television Advertising) AGM in Paris. For those who don’t know EGTA, they represent commercial broadcasters across Europe (and, increasingly, Asia and Africa).  The UK’s broadcasters are woefully under-represented within EGTA membership, but the remaining 34 countries and 82 broadcasters in the house were treated to two days of thought-provoking and generally uplifting perspectives on TV’s connected future.

As convergence is happening before our very eyes – with screens syncing together in seamless harmony – so we are beginning to see just how TV’s connected future is shaping up. On the final day of EGTA’s AGM, three evangelists for the connected living room showed their wares. Bruno Peirera of The TV App Agency and Tej Rekhi from DG Mediamind provided compelling examples of how content jumps from screen to screen, making the communal personal and the personal communal. Meanwhile, Miles Lewis of Shazam, showed how broadcasters are already using their audio matching technology to promote programmes and advertisers to deepen engagement. And the simplicity of the convergence to the viewer – buy app and point smartphone at TV – is what will make experiences such as these work.

There has been a step change in the creative & digital industries over the last couple of years, with an emphasis moving from trying to replace television towards trying to work with it, by deepening engagement, furthering interactivity and enabling sharing. The key to this has been the second (and now third, fourth, fifth…) screens that have sprung up in living rooms across the land. They allow all of these enhancements to take place without disturbing the communal and immersive experience of ‘watching TV’. That is why the main role of connected TV’s – once they finally get connected – is not to channel the internet into the TV set, but rather to send TV to the internet. Once it’s there, people can do their own thing with it, on their own screen.  I’ve heard it described as red button on steroids, but this is another level to the clunky, limited red button experience.

Of course, with technologies like Shazam, the TV doesn’t even need to be connected.

Not only does this have implications for the effectiveness of individual spots, it can also change the whole nature of the break, as Miles demonstrated through Shazam’s work on this year’s Superbowl. You can see some examples here (http://shazamadvertising.com/view/mail?iID=WHVEPW5QDBWHG2W7NJVH).

It offers some powerful opportunities to broadcasters and advertisers alike, if they embrace the technology, each commercial break could be a mini-Superbowl experience. But I can’t help thinking that the advertising breaks will need to do all they can to keep their audience from Shazaming off somewhere else…at a single wave of their smartphone!

 

HAS US PRIME TIME LOST ITS SHINE?

October 16th, 2012

According to a recent academic paper by a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, there has been an increasing collective interest in death and dying within American society, and it has been growing consistently for several decades. It certainly seems to have permeated the US media industry, and particularly its industry press, which has been chirruping recently about the dramatic falls in viewing the US networks have been experiencing in the last month or so, and the signal it sends that Americans are (finally!) drifting away from their television sets for good.

The New York Times reported under the headline ‘Prime-time Ratings Bring Speculation of a Shift in Viewing Habits’ that the combined network audiences were down by double digit levels year on year, with the comment “I think we are at a tipping point in how people are going to watch shows”. The LA Times breathlessly reported that “the prime-time television ratings drop took centrer stage at the Digital Content NewFront presentations in New York, with former ABC Entertainment Chairman Lloyd Braun seizing on the numbers as an opportunity to talk about changing viewing habits — and the rise of digital media”. Well, he would, wouldn’t he?

A single month of poor figures and the prophets of doom and gloom immediately assemble to pick over network television’s carcass. Except, there is no body to scavenge and the numbers being touted suffer from some basic misinterpretations!

Thanks to my good friend, Dr. Horst Stipp of the Advertising Research Foundation, I have managed to get hold of some Nielsen figures, which put a different light on the numbers.

The first thing to note is that the numbers relate to the 4 week period ending 12th April. Now, first of all, a four week period is hardly enough time to suggest the death of the dominant digital media channel, but sadly that is the short-termist nature of the world we live in. However, it wasn’t just any 4 week period; it was a period which contained both the Easter and spring breaks this year, but not in 2011. TV viewing suffers during those two periods, as anybody who has tried to get out of a major US city during Easter weekend will tell you. So, for a start, the analysis compares apples and pears.

The analysis is also incomplete. It only takes into account viewing to the main commercial networks (across one of their traditionally weaker audience periods) and, like most markets with a vibrant multi-channel offering, their share of viewing has been declining consistently, for something like 24 consecutive months. It also only includes live and same day viewing; so much of the timeshift viewing that has long been a feature of US TV viewing is taken out of the equation.

If we were to base the analysis on a longer time-span and a like-for-like comparison of all television viewing, Nielsen data shows a much more settled picture. For example, across the whole of the first quarter, total viewing is up and viewing amongst the all-important 18-49 demographic – the cord cutters and Netflix addicts (supposedly) – was actually up 2% on 2011.  In fact, across the whole TV season, from September 2011 to April 2012, both all individuals and 18-49 TV viewing levels were up on slightly on the previous year – and that, remember, is coming off a very high base.

There is a depressing familiarity to the speed with which this ‘TV is dying’ narrative continues to re-emerge. It only takes a few weeks’ data to set it off again, it is woefully ignorant of the context (e.g. the importance of Easter in the comparison) and it is based on wishful thinking, reminiscent of a time when “if we build it, they will come” was a staple phrase in most digital business plans.

GOOGLE AND DIGITAL FREEDOM

October 16th, 2012

I read the recent coverage of Google founder Sergey Brin’s plea for internet freedom with great interest – there must be seismic shifts happening to persuade the enigmatic Googlista to take such a public stand.  It covers everything from anti-piracy measures to creating an open (yet simultaneously private) channel through which democracy may flourish. Oh, and don’t forget the need for everything to be searchable. Overall, it confirmed a long-held view of mine, that there are digital and analogue businesses, and Google’s is fundamentally digital.

I explore this whole analogue-digital divide in my new book (shameless plug[1]), from the perspective of television’s resilience to a deluge of ‘disruptive’ digital technologies that have become mainstream within the past 5 years, focussing on the analogue strengths of TV such as storytelling, engagement, sharing and trust, but I think the paradigm applies to media in general. There are digital companies – Google, Microsoft, Facebook – and there are analogue ones, which rely on digital technology but are analogue in nature, within which I’d include Apple, BSkyB and Amazon.

I’m interested in this analogue-digital paradigm, not from a technological perspective but from a communications one. The celebrated communications theorist, Paul Watzlawick, as far back as the 1960s identified digital communication as the words themselves, syntax and semantics. Analogue communication was based on what he termed meta-communication, the complex and multi-layered meanings we take from the briefest nod of the head or change in vocal pitch. (Incidentally, this is why audio-visual is such a powerful communications tool).

Analogue – based on the principle of the whole being much greater than the sum of the parts – provides the richness, depth, emotion, complexity and narrative of communications. It creates a much more holistic perspective, and I believe it extends to the mindset of media and technology companies. The divide between the two mindsets was perfectly illustrated in Eric Schmidt’s recent admission during his McTaggart lecture that Google could never be a content creator because it is too focussed on engineering. It is digital to its very core.

It’s interesting how all of this applies to the equivalent technologies. Digital is binary, efficient, data-driven, and technology-led, whereas analogue is holistic, creative, insight-driven and consumer-led. It’s true that digital provides a fantastic distribution and promotional vehicle for analogue-driven experiences, but the analogue mindset creates the value in the content. Storytelling, for example, a fundamental building block in human learning and behaviour, is analogue by its very nature. In my book, I talk about digital leading to replacement theory mindset, where new and more efficient technologies simply replace what has gone before. Analogue thinking, in my view, is based more on eco-system theory; with new technologies enhancing the existing landscape and the whole becoming greater than the sum of the parts (e.g. more viewing, greater engagement or deeper interactivity). That is why I dislike the term ‘disruption’ so much – after all, consumers are fundamentally opposed to disruption on principle.

But digital is more efficient, seen as a superior technology and therefore analogue is perceived as fundamentally inferior. I want to stand up for analogue because I think it’s had a bad rep. Until digital companies recognise its importance, they will struggle to realise the web’s true value (a couple of examples could be the failures of semantic search and Google TV). I’ll illustrate this with two rhetorical questions;

  1. How many insight people are employed by the digital brand leaders compared to the big media companies? Or other major ‘analogue’ companies, for that matter? Because, take my word for it, data in itself does not create insight and can often lead down some very rocky paths.
  2. How has the value of what the digital-based companies provide improved in the past 5 years? Is search significantly better? Social networking more fun? Hotmail less frustrating? The customer experience more engaging?

Now consider the analogue-mindset companies. Has the value of the Apple experience improved? Does Amazon manage your customer servicing better? Is the Sky pay TV offering improved on that of 5 years ago?

It could be argued that, to the average consumer, the former are faceless providers of utility services while the latter provide a human element across the brand experience, from design to marketing to customer servicing. That’s why I’d always back analogue businesses to win out in the long term; because the world may be turning digital but people are fundamentally analogue in nature.

Think about this from the perspective of your ‘digital footprint’! How much of the whole person, the real you, does your digital trail really represent? It provides lots of data, which can be mined in increasingly efficient ways, but I don’t think it even scratches the surface of what makes people so complex, so unpredictable, so…analogue.

But I digress. The Google entreaty for digital freedom contained three component parts. It lamented the increasing state censorship and surveillance, rights management from content owners restricting open access and the explosion of apps limiting what is available via open search (apparently Google’s web crawlers cannot pick up in-app activity).

Taking them one by one, I have always been cynical about the digerati’s ambitions for a completely free, democratic and open (yet somehow private) worldwide web. I don’t disagree with the sentiment, but I have always doubted that governments like China’s would simply hold their hands up and accept the new democratic transparency.  Google’s tortuous relationship with the Chinese government has demonstrated the scale of the problem. I also think there are splits within the digital industry itself in terms of where the line between openness and privacy should be drawn (as demonstrated by Facebook’s recent statement that online users should adhere to a single, accessible, identifiable online identity). Another example; Google’s pronouncements this week that parents should take more responsibility for filtering online porn show an alarmingly out-of-touch relationship with its user base (but, then again, 57% of online video viewing is to pornography, so there is a lot to lose).

The opposition to rights management has been expressed for many years, but I still remain to be convinced by the arguments. I remember a late night debate with a very good friend of mine, where he argued that unemployed people should have the right to shoplift without any criminal sanction, on the basis they needed the support and retailers were profitable enough as it is. I didn’t agree with that, and I don’t agree that content owners should simply give up on the commercial rights to their content, just because the internet makes it readily available.

And then we come to the explosion in apps and the difficulties that poses for open search. Again, I am not convinced by Google’s argument that apps are a fundamentally bad thing; not to their users, they’re not! Although it may reduce the efficiency of open search, why would those who have already downloaded an app care? They have got what they want out of the deal, and the explosion in app-based access to the internet indicates it fulfils some basic human needs, meaning this is likely to become a bigger problem to Google in future. In fact, the success of apps suggests to me that Google’s “what do you want?” approach to online access is becoming increasingly anachronistic in a choice-saturated world. As Barry Schwarz – author of ‘The Paradox of Choice’ – stated, “choice is cherished, but choosing is a chore”.

I think we need to keep this analogue-digital paradigm in mind when we explore  issues such as Google’s ode to digital freedom, and we should understand how analogue characteristics create layers of depth, engagement and involvement which cannot be replicated via a purely digital mindset. Whether it is within the context of technology, communication or the business mindset, analogue is important and until companies such as Google, Microsoft and Facebook understand that fact, we will hear many more such complaints from Mr. Brin and his peers!



‘CONNECTED TV – How TV’s Analogue Strengths Have Created a Digital Supermedium’ – email me at david@medianative for more information

THE OPPOSITE OF A BRAND ADVOCATE

October 16th, 2012

I conducted a piece of brand research a couple of years ago, which dared to raise a question few people in marketing ever ask; “are there any brands out there that you would refuse to buy, at any price?”

The answer, at the time, was an unqualified ‘yes’! It was remarkable how many markets and brands were deemed toxic by consumers, many of them in the services sector. These were spontaneous outpourings of rage – we just gave them time to get it out of their system. There were many numerous examples of poor, almost non-existent customer service, especially at those times when customers are most in need; when the technology goes wrong.

There are several brands already banished from the Brennan household, mainly due to the above complaint, but my recent Escher-esque dealings with Microsoft have resulted in an addition to the toxic brand gang. I won’t bore you with the details, but it consists of many failed attempts to re-access a closed Hotmail account (bloody hackers!) leading to a constant loop around the message boards for a solution. At least I knew I was not alone; endless exhortations to the God of Inaccessible Alternate Email Accounts came from around the globe, with not a single answer to pacify them. It has been more trouble than it has been worth, so I’ve just opened a Google account instead.

But it’s refocused my attention on the problem of toxic brands because, sure as eggs is eggs, if I asked that same question today, there would be even more candidates across even more markets . In fact, I would bet good money that the number of brands spontaneously placed in the toxic category would outweigh those in the ‘buy at any price’ equivalent.

Which is odd, really, because the industry spends so much money on the latter. One of the myths of social marketing is that brand advocates will lead the way, spreading the good word in a way that paid-for media could never achieve. But one thing I’ve learned over the years is that people with a grievance outshout the satisfied every time. Try it the next time you’re at a dinner party and the conversation has dried up. Ask the question “are there any brands out there that you would refuse to buy, at any price?” and listen to the grievances pour out. There will be no more awkward silences, I can promise you.

So why isn’t more invested into the opposite-of-advocates (see, they haven’t even got a recognised name)?  I believe their existence is a failure of marketing and a challenge for media planning – after all, why try to reach them? But it is largely due to the increasingly digital mindset of technology-led services. I explore this whole issue of digital vs. analogue mindsets in my new book (shameless plug), focussing on the enduring ‘analogue’ strengths of TV, but the digital vs. analogue paradigm extends across the marketing spectrum.

For many digital-mindset brands, it is virtually impossible to speak to or even email a real human being representing the company. As a consumer, your key interaction with the brand – when you most need them – will all too often result in an online infinity loop or, at best, a highly scripted, often surreal interaction with what may or may not be a real human voice. There is little room in either ‘brand experience’ for analogue qualities such as ‘common sense’, empathy or lateral thinking. As such, the services industry often struggles to match branding promises against the reality of faceless, commissioned, unresponsive CRM based on algorithms, efficiency and ‘hands-off’ customer servicing.

There are technology-based brands that get it, and these are often what I would call analogue-mindset businesses. Companies like Apple and Sky are far more customer-focussed, responsive and…well, just a bit more human in how they interact with their customers. All of the latest insights emerging from neuroscience, cognitive psychology and behavioural economics have opened our eyes to what those analogue qualities are worth in business terms, and I’m surprised that so many technology brands have failed to grasp that fact.

It’s interesting that I’ve just mentioned two brands with more than their fair share of brand advocates, but they are also two brands that rarely get mentioned when the ‘toxic brand’ question is asked. But then the question itself rarely gets asked in the rush for Facebook ‘likes’ and brand champions.

In the meantime, I’d suggest a bit more focus on the ‘opposite-of-advocates’ would yield a great deal more in the way of business performance. If you want to find out who they are, or how strongly they feel, just ask that question at your next dinner party. Then lean back and listen to the roar. You might not get invited back, but you’ll be much better informed.



CONNECTED TELEVISION – How TV’s Analogue Strengths Have Created a Digital Supermedium’