A friend just told me how her preteens watch TV. The family subscribes to Ultimate TV, a Microsoft service that allows you to record television on a hard drive, record multiple shows at once, and basically skip commercials at will.
My friend said the kids never watch commercials. They make sure they start watching a show after it starts airing, so when commercials come on they can skip right through them.
She explained the children have no concept of live television. They watch TV like they surf the Net, accessing programming at will. Every program is on demand.
Personal use of products such as Ultimate TV and TiVo is not yet widespread. If they become more popular (and many experts expect they will), the technology will upset the advertising ecosystem that’s supported TV for almost 50 years.
Technology is already changing TV advertising. The current system is based on placing standard-length commercials in regularly spaced “pods” of ads. This creates the predictability that makes avoiding them so easy.
To circumvent ad-skipping (via technology or just plain zapping) advertisers increasingly integrate advertising into content with product placement, sponsorships, and ads that appear while programming is on the screen.
Sound familiar? Ironic that just as the online advertising industry is criticized for pop-ups and other kinds of intrusive advertising, TV is experimenting with its own versions of intrusive ads.
TV advertising is becoming more promotion-oriented, such as driving qualified audiences to the Web to vote in polls, take part in contests, or obtain premium content. These types of promotions can drive tens of thousands of people to Web sites in under a minute.
The advertising industry often talks about “convergence” as if one day it will start, and everything after that will be different. Convergence is already here. Commercial media are becoming more and more interdependent.
About five years ago, when I worked for an interactive ad agency, we would tell our clients (many of whom had multibillion dollar brands) they needed to throw a lot of what they knew about advertising out the window. We said the Internet was changing everything. We were brash, and we were wrong.
As we struggle to ascend from the depths of the online advertising depression, we must remember the Web is still a revolutionary medium. The issues the online advertising industry is wrestling with — balancing ad intrusiveness with user experience, leveraging tracking while still protecting privacy, and integrating paid with “free” content — could be the same issues TV will face in the next decade.
The past two years have been difficult for anyone working in this industry. Even those of us who stayed employed have suffered the crash in one way or another. I have no doubt what we are learning will have relevance for years to come.