There was a great scandal coming out of the Consumer Electronics Show this year. I suppose a scandal is nearly as good as an amazing new, game-changing technology. Nearly, but not quite. I don't think anyone was blown away by any announcements from CES this year. I'm not much of a gadget guy, generally. But it's always nice to see some amazing new ideas and products, though I'm not sure that we saw anything in particular that will shake up the world.
But we did have a scandal. CNET awarded a "Best in Show" award to Dish Network's Hopper device. This is a box that plugs into your cable feed and, in addition to having all of the normal features of a DVR, you can also watch your TV content on any Internet-connected device. You plug this thing in at home and when you are on the road (anywhere, even outside of the country), you can watch all of your own channels.
It's a pretty remarkable thing and definitely deserved the high honor bestowed upon it. The problem was, CNET is owned by CBS and CBS is currently suing Dish over this particular piece of technology. So, CBS told CNET to pull the award. The Dish Hopper has now entered the annals of CES history, as the product that was recognized as "Best of Show," but not awarded "Best of Show" because of a conflict. (BTW: the eventual winner is the Razer's Edge, a gaming-centric tablet, which is also pretty cool.)
This little scuffle, though, clearly points to a bigger and growing problem and a conflict: people want television content to be more freely available, but companies that own and control that content want to...well...own and control it. Technology is all around us, with plenty of power to free up that episode of "Modern Family" from the television set in the living room and let it run free. Technology is not the problem. The problem is the culture and economics of the business surrounding that content. And, at the heart of that culture and economics is, of course, advertising.
We sit in the middle of a storm, my friends. And we need to do something about it.
I'm From Advertising, and I'm Here to Help
The first real technology to widely distribute content was the radio. It is a footnote in history, but the engineers at AT&T who described how a radio network could function also noted that the funding for the service would have to come from ads. The invention of mass communication is intertwined with the understanding that ads would be a part of the experience.
If you, like me, have cast your lot with the advertising industry, then you have always been living inside a world where broadcasters (and publishers) have made the rules. This has gotten to be a bit crazy, in fact. Actually, what it has become is fully irrational. We are, as an industry, so used to spending money on traditional channels that we ignore simple data points and cultural shifts.
Let's keep looking at TV for a minute. Culture (and technology) shifts are clearly pulling the world away from seeing TV spots. The Dish Hopper technology is precisely what people want (and companies want to avoid). Couple that with a recent study conducted by Simulmedia: 54 percent of all ad money is spent on buying primetime ads, but these spots account for only 34 percent of all impressions. We are spending more than half of our budgets on a medium that is only delivering a third of our impressions.
Now, there is always a quality issue that needs to be factored in here. One :30 spot during "Modern Family" may do the job of a hundred banner ads. That is the benefit of being able to use the rich creative canvas of television. But two big factors are quickly negated that perceived benefit: the fact that people are happily skipping those gorgeous ads and the fact that so many other technologies are offering way more interactive and engaging platforms (HTML5, for example).
Big Ideas Need Big Homes
All of this has been a thorn in my side for the last few days. On my Twitter feed, a number of friends have been debating whether or not digital campaigns need "big ideas." Many are considering the idea that a digital campaign doesn't need a creative concept or a compelling new idea or an exciting leap. That can be left behind in the broadcast world.
Total nonsense. The fact is, consumers are waiting to be engaged and entertained and we pass up that opportunity at our peril. It is time for the industry's best and brightest to refocus their attention toward a platform that is both expanding and offers a better promise of return. Digital advertising needs big ideas because advertising needs big ideas. And big thinkers need to put their effort into spaces where their ideas will be seen by big audiences.
I see no other path, besides a full embrace of the digital world. Advertising has been a bundled-in part of broadcast since the birth of broadcast. That's fine, and we have grown up together. Today, though, broadcasters are clinging to an expiring era and advertisers may need to, today, forge into the new world first.
Then, the broadcasters will begin to follow us.
TVs image on home page via Shutterstock.
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Gary Stein is SVP, strategy and planning in iCrossing's San Francisco office. He has been working in marketing for more than a decade. Gary lives in San Francisco with his family. Follow him on Twitter: @garyst3in. The opinions expressed in Gary's columns are his alone.
March 19, 2014