Strike Not (Yet) a Direct Draw for Digital Ads

As the Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike wears on and TV networks issue a growing number of make goods to advertisers for canceled programs, many have speculated media buyers will take the money and run to another medium: the Web.

The latest programming casualty is NBC’s broadcast of the celebrity-packed Golden Globe awards, which has now been replaced with a mere press conference announcing the winners. Yet despite the loss of such a glitzy advertising vehicle and the imminent threat to many other scripted programs, a blanket shift of TV dollars to the Internet won’t necessarily follow.

“We’ve started working with clients to figure out what were going to do,” said Jackie Kulesza, VP and broadcast activation director at Starcom. “The strike keeps calling [the Internet] into question, but it’s something everyone should already be doing, looking at online options as well as other opportunities.”

Kulesza points out the effects of the strike are only just beginning. “Most of the networks kept the fourth quarter intact.” In 2008, mid-season replacements like ABC’s “Cashmere Mafia” and returning shows like “Lost” will help maintain TV’s viability for advertisers. Reality shows offer advertisers another alternative, to some degree. “Not every network is taking that strategy,” he added.

Though digital platforms have yet to report strike-driven ad spending increases, some WGA writers have reportedly turned to the medium, creating new opportunities for advertisers. And industry watchers have speculated TV audiences, fed up with reality fare, will flock to online shows.

“Viewers are already looking on the Web for content,” Elizabeth Curtis, associate research analyst for consumer markets: video at research firm IDC said back in November. “As sites like YouTube gained more attention in 2006 and 2007, consumers became aware that not only is user created content available online but so is copyrighted material.”

Meanwhile many TV buys remain intact, as networks and advertisers continue discussing prospects for 2008. “We’re working with the networks to make sure the buys deliver as we had all intended them to deliver,” said Kulesza.

Some of those opportunities include online platforms such as News Corp and NBC joint venture Hulu and other multi-network-spanning sites like Fancast.

“The more ways that the networks get their content in the hands of the consumer in the way [the consumer] wants to watch it, great,” said Kulesza. “If a consumer wants to watch on Hulu versus the TV, that’s the consumer’s choice.”

Much will depend on the strike’s duration. For many brand advertisers already eager to boost their digital marketing spends, a series of refunds and make goods lasting until the spring upfront may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

“A lot of these guys are ready to rock in 2008,” said Ian Schafer, CEO of interactive agency Deep Focus. “The current plight of television isn’t hurting that.”

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