The evolution of TV

Jul 10, 2017

“TV” is not dying, at least not anytime soon.

If we only look at TV in the traditional sense, a box in our house that we sit in front of and watch programs in real time, then yes “TV” is in decline and the linear ratings are evidence of that. That being said, TV has and continues to become much more than that – because it has to.

Television programming, and the piece of furniture on which you view it, has been evolving for a very long time in part due to advancements in technology and in part out of necessity. When testing began in 1939, programs were broadcast from NBC studios at the top of the Empire State Building and were initially scheduled for an hour at a time, twice a week. RCA built the device, now called “television,” to receive these transmissions of news, sports and entertainment in both sound and picture. Then, CBS (1941), ABC (1948) and FOX (1986) rolled out their national and local programming and, thereafter, cable television was born in the mid-late 20th century out of a need to bypass mountains and buildings blocking the broadcast signals.

This was the time of live appointment television, when you’d ingest news, talk shows and sitcoms sitting on the couch with the family at a specified time. Then, the 1990s introduced DVDs and Direct TV which started to give consumers more viewing choices and the 21st century brought us YouTube, Apple TV, streaming Netflix, Hulu, Roku, DVR and the connected TV, whereby the concept of “time shifting” started to become more dominant and the necessity to watch in real time was more than ever dictated by the consumer.

Fast forward (pun intended) to 2017 and while the days of “couching-it” aren’t completely gone, they have definitely changed. Now, technology makes it possible for us to watch more content on multiple devices (television, phone, tablet and computer) and consumers expect content on their schedule – presenting both a challenge and an opportunity to content providers everywhere. Make no mistake, television content is still king. It’s just that there is more of it being produced by multiple providers and there are a myriad of ways in which consumers can view it. The challenge, therefore, before the industry is twofold: 1) How do providers maximize their potential audiences and then measure “viewership” to all this content across multiple devices in both linear and non-linear time, and 2) How do we as advertisers continue to reach these important audiences given that traditional commercial inventory across platforms/devices varies dramatically, at least for the moment.

For content providers, particularly the Big 4, it is imperative that they evolve their distribution so that they can maximize their reach and continue to monetize the audiences that they capture. Take CBS for example. You can find their content on-air, online, on mobile, tablet, smart TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, and Chromecast. And, if you’re a CBS super fan you can pay a mere $5.99/month for CBS All Access and watch to your heart’s content (with limited commercial interruption, of course). That’s a pretty long list of devices that CBS has allowed to access their content and it’s no mistake. They are all doing it, in one way or another, gradually. What’s more, is those non-linear providers like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon are all generating their own content and growing their distribution channels as well. The reality is that the traditional broadcast and cable television networks’ dominance is starting to flatten against these newer content providers and they all have to fight to stay relevant despite increased competition and fragmentation. So, figuring out how to be accessible to both the linear and non linear viewer, and on multiple devices/platforms, is the new industry mantra.

Further, when it comes to measuring these fragmented audiences, the industry is just at the beginning stages of trying to tie viewing to multiple platforms together in order to better capture total audiences to specific content. Nielsen is one measurement company that is attempting to meet the challenges head on with its new “total content ratings” methodology. Until recently, broadcast networks haven’t had the opportunity to take credit for all the places they are making their content available. This knowledge is imperative for their future if they are to justify the audiences that they need to “sell” to advertisers. The catch is that there is a certain amount of coding and software implementation that is necessary on the networks’ side to make this work. Meaning that if not all the nation’s big TV companies are on board, the data will most certainly be skewed towards those that can participate and, therefore, be inconsistent and not as valuable. This is a work in progress and our best guess is that the technology available to aggregate all of this data will evolve rapidly because, well, it has to.

For marketers, it is clear that advertising is one of the most important investments a company makes. It’s what drives growth. Whether that growth equates to increased awareness leading to future sales or is designed to generate leads immediately, it is critical that marketers continue to reach their target audiences at the right time and in the best environment for their products. However, what’s not so clear anymore is how to reach that “best” audience during this ever-changing world of content distribution and fragmentation. Hand in hand with networks expanding their distribution, is the increasingly complex advertising world facing marketers in terms of where they can advertise said content.

At Cronin our approach is to locate where your core prospects/customers are consuming their content. It can be both exciting and sometimes daunting: we sift through traditional commercial availability, linear live stream availability, non-linear stream availability, in app inventory, OTT (Over the Top) availability and network sites. This is now a fairly convoluted environment that hasn’t been wrapped up neatly into one place, yet. However, eventually out of need like cable television, the industry will begin to simplify itself and its access point(s), again. If anyone thinks that the broadcast and cable television networks are going to allow their content to be completely replaced by other, newer providers or concede their distribution and ability to monetize these audiences to the same, they’re silly.

Nielsen said it best, “What’s next is always being put in front of us.” You see, most of us are so caught up in the now we don’t realize that these media conglomerates have been forging this path for years. You have to remember their livelihood is predicated on survival. With mergers, diversified media acquisitions and a lot of fancy coding their evolution is happening right before our eyes.


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