Is Television Dead? Well…

The other day, in the middle of a casual conversation, I was asked a question about television as it relates to media buying.

“Is television dead?”

My instant answer was an emphatic NO… but upon reflection… well, yes, kind of… the way it used to be, anyway.

Television has certainly morphed since I began working in advertising. Back in the “Stone Age,” we had three, maybe four stations in a market. If it was a large market, like NYC, LA or Philadelphia, you might have five or six stations. You had the big three networks (ABC, NBC and CBS) and you had what were called “Independents.” These were the locally produced stations that carried reruns and non-network programs.

We’re no longer all watching the same show.

When you watched TV, your choice was limited, both by network and by time. Television began at maybe 6 am and it ended at about 1 am. It literally turned off. “The Star-Spangled Banner” played, and you went to bed.

If there was an amazing program on television, you could anticipate a 60 or 70 share; that means that 60% of the people who were watching television at that moment were all watching that one show. Back in the 80s, “The Cosby Show” had 80 shares! That’s unheard of now, except for the Super Bowl. This year, the Super Bowl had a 69.1 HH (household) share in Philadelphia. Nothing else comes close. A typical share on a network program is maybe a 10 for a normal prime time program (Monday-Sunday 8 pm-11 pm).

A number of things have changed since the old days. First, there are more stations/networks. Many, many more. Hundreds, to be honest. That automatically splinters the audience. With so many choices, you seldom have a share that is very high. People can watch programming very specific to their interests.

We’re no longer watching TV the same way.

The other major change is more recent. People aren’t watching television the same way. Not only are there more programs to watch, you can watch those shows on many more devices: tablets, phones and computers. You don’t have to be sitting in front of the TV to see your favorite shows at the precise time they air. You can watch them on a delay through cable systems or online on the network apps or websites. You can, to use that charmingly antiquated term, “tape” them (insert TiVo, DVR, etc.). Few programs are limited to live viewing. When media schedules are placed now, great attention is paid to live programming. Only in the case of a live event does it matter if you watch a program now or later. For most programs, a delay is not an issue. Ratings are even factored to include delayed viewing.

We need to reach TV viewers in a variety of ways.

Yes, television viewing has changed. A large part of that change is dependent on age. If I am trying to reach someone older, I would tend to buy television in the “usual” way, meaning first-run, live programming on the actual television set. But if I am trying to reach someone in their 20s or 30s, the method would be different. These folks are the leaders of non-traditional viewing; they’re watching on their phones and tablets, for example. They are still watching — just not in the same place — so the advertising has to appear on the device on which they’re watching. Pre-roll video, digital ads and other non-traditional ads will follow these viewers.

Is television dead? No. Television is still the highest reach advertising vehicle. Ninety-nine percent of households own at least one television, while 65 percent have three or more TVs. On average people watch more than five hours per day. Using this medium effectively for our clients means being aware of our audience… and their viewing habits.

By Jennifer Andren VP Media Director