Posts Tagged ‘Media’

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.

MEDIA REHAB

October 16th, 2012

They tried to make me go to (media) rehab, I said NO! NO! NO!

I have just returned home after a 3 week sojourn in a Turkish haven of tranquility, where I have spent time recovering from an addiction I never knew I had. Three whole weeks with scarcely a media touch point in sight (nor sound). It was tough, but once the withdrawal symptoms wore off, I was able to approach the real world with a renewed sense of engagement and a clearer perspective. Cold turkey in Turkey, in fact.

I should explain. My family and I stayed near a small fishing village, which has never seen an English language newspaper or magazine. The internet connection in our small resort complex was as unreliable as the local transport and the nearest bar to offer wi-fi was a 40 minute boat ride away. 3G connections were similarly unreliable, as well as ridiculously expensive. We had satellite TV in our apartment but apart from the news channels, it was exclusively foreign language programming. (Incidentally, why are specialist news channels the only English language services in international hotels and resorts, when the Italian, French and  German speakers can usually get their entertainment channels, such as  RAI, TF1, RTL and ZDF?)

Pretty much the whole resort gathered around the bar’s TV screen for Mo Farah’s 5,000 metre race, but it was interrupted on Turkish TV for the bronze medal tussle in the Greco-Roman wrestling – or, as my wife described it, two very large kittens fighting in a cat basket! – but otherwise the TV screen stayed reassuringly blank.

So, like my fellow media addicts, I spent the first week fretting about the dried-up supply chain (apparently, if you arose at 6.30 am and waved your laptop in the right direction, it was occasionally possible to get 20 minutes’ worth of Facebook) and talking wistfully of times past. We would laugh as the new arrivals to our therapy group would turn ashen-faced as they realised their laptops and ipads would remain unconnected and they would have to make the Weekend Guardian they bought on the way out last them the whole fortnight. And slowly, very slowly, we flushed away the need for constant updates and wall-to-wall entertainment media and found our true selves again. Real-life conversations, interactive fun (i.e. diving off the boat jetty) and savouring the simple things of life took over. The Sky EPG, Times leader column and Twitter trending became a dim and distant memory.

However, despite the eventual success of my enforced media rehab programme, it was obvious that the cycle of addiction was not completely broken; I would still find myself watching the BBC World news cycle several times over, wave my ipad in futile attempts to get a signal and re-read the Weekend Guardian’s travel section article on singles holidays in the Ukraine.

As always, it was harder on the little ones. When we asked our son;s teenage friend Jack if he was looking forward to going home later that day, he replied “well, yes and no”. When pressed, he admitted he would miss “all of this”, gesturing vaguely at the sun-soaked holiday paradise around him, but he then qualified his remark by saying he couldn’t wait to get back to his satellite TV and wi-fi connections. Plus ca change…

 

TV LOSES SEX APPEAL

October 16th, 2012

Before their careers took off, both Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn were told they were simply not sexy enough to make it in Hollywood. Being sexy is obviously in the eye of the beholder, which is just as well for TV.

I have just returned home from a media conference where I heard yet again from a senior media strategist with a global advertiser how TV is simply ‘not sexy enough’ as a media channel and is being kicked out of the marital bedroom in favour of those hot young things at Google, Facebook and Apple. In fact, to make it even worse, it is totally TV’s fault for not only letting itself go but also, at the same time, failing to put the effort into the relationship.  “You don’t call, you don’t write, you don’t visit me every day with a stunning new creative solution…” . OK, I paraphrased things slightly, but not by much.

This last point grated somewhat; I’ve seen too many recent examples of broadcasters offering increasingly creative solutions to advertisers across Europe and North America to accept that is the case, but it did point to a major disconnect between the ambitions of the advertiser and the attitude and/or resources of the media owner. And it is not an isolated incident – I have seen similar presentations from a range of global advertisers who, between them, account for a huge proportion of media expenditure.

The presentation was subject to a great deal of polite but insistent questioning from the audience, following which I grasped three fundamental  challenges that a frumpy old medium like TV will need to address if it is pass the Marilyn and Audrey test, rather than be perceived to be the Anne Widdecombe/John Sergeant (take your pick) of communications planning.

The first of these is an ability to offer 360 degree solutions, encompassing all aspects of the media owner’s business. Having worked with a couple of the online giants recently, I think there is merit in this. Their sales teams (many of them from a TV background, ironically enough) can offer direct input from a range of disciplines within the group; sales, marketing, creative, editorial, strategic and technological. Compare this, say, to the tortuous processes advertisers need to go through just to get an advertiser-funded programme on air, with the programme production teams often offering a less than joined up approach to the whole process. There has to be a lesson there for the broadcasters. The TV sales people who have ‘gone digital’ certainly appear to relish the opportunities to not only think, but sell outside the box.

The second challenge is even more daunting. When pressed, the advertiser in question agreed that they have directly approached a wide range of media players to discuss potential partnerships, including production companies, Hollywood studios and platform operators. Although there were some TV broadcasters on the list, these were all global brands; highly localised or regionalised players were not being invited to the party. This would naturally exclude brands such as ABC, NBC, ITV, Channel 4, TF1, RTL and ProSiebenSat1 from the invitation list – all major players within their markets and all of whom would be expected to lead the way in offering creative solutions to the advertisers within those markets.

I have no doubt the broadcasters have the resources to rise to this challenge, but it might mean a more open-minded and collaborative approach between the organisations representing TV – whether that be Thinkbox, EGTA or the TV Bureau of Canada. If the individual TV companies cannot get an invite to the party, maybe they should work together to enable the case for TV to be made to the global communications planners and strategists that now sit in head offices across the USA and Europe. If nothing else, it would get them on the guest list and the sheer novelty of seeing the whole TV industry work together in such a way would send out a very powerful signal.

Of course, it would probably never happen!

The third challenge is an even more fundamental one. Throughout the presentation (and the many other similar presentations I have seen given by global comms strategists of major advertisers), I felt the enthusiasm was invested in what the technology could do rather than the creative excellence behind what was being communicated. This meant that some of the examples given involved clever use of technology and a successful performance amongst those reached BUT many of the creative ideas appeared tired and forced, and the reach levels of the campaigns were less than impressive.

We are now two decades into the digital revolution, and yet this ‘TV is not sexy enough’ mindset appears to me to be both retrograde and lazy. It works on an assumption of TV’s role in the digital media landscape which is at least ten years out of date. It assumes the media channel can be separated and placed in a silo. It also demonstrates a discouraging ignorance of what exactly is going on in TV right now, and some of the highly creative solutions it can provide (generally, WITH other media channels rather than as an alternative to them!).

So, my question to the big, global advertisers is this. Has TV really lost its sex appeal, or are you just looking for a younger model? Because we all know how those relationships usually end, don’t we?

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.

 

 

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.

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’