Conventional wisdom has it that an increase in internet usage has cannibalized TV viewership. Yet data shows that users spend as much time on TV as they do on the web, according to the TV/Internet Convergence Panel by Nielsen. Globally, TV viewership exceeds both internet and mobile usage, Nielsen found. We don't need statistics to know that TV remains a popular mass medium, even with those amongst us who are heavy users of the web. All we have to do is look at our own television viewing habits: nowadays, they frequently involve simultaneously watching TV and browsing the web on our laptops.
While the internet has not cannibalized TV to the degree people assume, the web has certainly influenced TV, and in the future we should expect these two powerful mediums to engage in a symbiotic courtship. Users, advertisers and publishers stand to benefit from this exciting prospect.
TV is becoming like the web: The growth of niche players
In the United States over the last 20 years, TV and the web have converged, driven by content explosion, audience fragmentation and a growing clamor for accountable advertising. In 1988, "The Cosby Show" was the top-rated TV show and attracted an audience share of about 50 percent. In 2007, by contrast, "American Idol" was the top-rated TV show and attracted an audience of about 25 percent, according to the National People Meter Sample from Nielsen Media Research. During the same time frame, the average number of TV channels in a household grew from about 25 to 100. This explosion in content and resulting audience fragmentation is reminiscent of the internet, which grew from a few big portals in the early days to today's web of millions of sites.
This growing trend presents a goldmine of opportunity for advertisers. It's difficult to know what an audience is worth, however, if advertisers cannot measure it. If you look across cable network today you'll find that the currently measured networks account for a 70 percent share of viewership, leaving 30 percent of viewership unaccounted for. Furthermore, about 50 percent of television viewership is on channels with less than a 1 percent share.
Content explosion poses a challenge for the user to quickly find relevant information from a near infinite sea of sources. Audience fragmentation poses a challenge for marketers to quickly find their target audience to deliver their message -- commonly referred to as the "needle in the haystack" problem.
Bringing internet advertising technology to TV
On the web, search and online advertising technologies help to solve the challenges of content discovery and audience fragmentation. Search allows users to quickly find relevant information, while advertising platforms enable advertisers to quickly narrow down their target markets from millions of potential sites. Keywords and contextual-matching technology allow advertisers to find audiences on websites related to topics described by those keywords. Additionally, this technology provides timely and accurate feedback to advertisers on clicks, impressions and costs of their campaigns, thus enabling rapid fine-tuning to achieve their intended return on investment.
As television becomes more like the web and faces similar issues of content and audience fragmentation, the question turns to how can we address these challenges? Apply our long-tail learnings of the internet to television; make the medium more relevant, measurable, and accountable. Similar to keyword-based contextual and placement-targeted advertising on the web, television programs can become content that advertisers can target in a scalable and efficient manner. You should be able, for instance, to advertise your new brand of eco-friendly diapers on shows not only about parenting, but also about the environment, and you should be able to find those relevant programs -- maybe ones you didn't originally think of -- just like you do when you type a phrase into your search engine and receive relevant results.
Similarly, as an advertiser, you should be able to more effectively measure your audience's engagement with your television ads. Just as companies can see how their online campaigns are performing -- what keywords are working best for them in attracting customers; what percentage of people are clicking on their ads -- they should also be able to also do this for television. For example, within 24 hours of their campaign's running, advertisers using Google TV Ads are able to log into the system and find valuable information about where and when their ad ran, how many impressions were delivered to their ad, the percentage of people who watched their ad all the way to the end and the average viewing time of their campaign.
Bridging the offline-online divide
Advertisers often place commercials into two categories: brand or direct response. But in the long run -- and this is something that can be explained using TV as an example -- every brand campaign is a direct response campaign, only with a longer lag. For example, when a car company executes a brand campaign to create a retention-and-recall effect, it is also hoping that 10 years from now, someone who has grown up watching the campaign on television will buy that car. Thus the real difference between brand and direct response advertising is the longer lead time in measuring return on investment.
Why does this matter? Because it means that eventually even brand advertisers will want to measure ROI on their advertising spend and will care about metrics just as much as direct response advertisers currently do. The only question is: how to provide interim metrics until that eventual sale is completed? How do we correlate what an advertiser's target audience is seeing offline with what they are doing online? This is where measurement technology comes again into play.
Brand advertisers need to recognize the importance of traditional media and the internet's symbiosis. They should extract data on how the two media can not only interact with each other, but also how they can build off of each other in the long run. In a Thinkbox 2007 study, those exposed to an advertiser's campaign on TV and online in the same time period were 63 percent more likely to remember that brand. When people see an ad about a diamond company on television, that diamond company should then be able to cross reference online search data during that campaign's run to gauge and adjust its message.
We are still learning from the web's success, but we are making strides not only in taking the benefits of the online world and extending them to the television medium, but also in bridging the divide between the two media. In the end, delivering relevant ads to users, better measurability for advertisers, and revenue-generating opportunities for content creators will result in a win-win-win scenario every time.