As cable providers begin to squirt video streams to more devices than television sets, the industry’s advertising advocacy organization has a delicate balancing act to accomplish: Spread the word about cable’s migration to a multi-screen environment without diminishing the value or primacy of television advertising.
It’s television, after all, that contributes the large majority of the $4 billion-plus annual U.S. market for local and regional advertising time sold by cable operators. (Another $2 billion comes from regional sports, news and other non-national networks.)
Knowing that, Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau President Sean Cunningham has taken a sort of high ground on the issue by trumpeting cable’s presence across multiple screens while reminding agencies at every turn that television remains king, and cable programming largely fuels today’s television viewing.
That approach was much in evidence at this year’s Cable Show in Boston, where Cunningham led what now seems to be an annual panel discussion about multi-screen advertising.
Presenting research findings from a study commissioned by the CAB from Frank Magid Associates, Cunningham observed there’s genuine momentum for viewing of television over non-TV devices including smartphones, tablets and connected game consoles. But he emphasized a point that often seems to get lost in the headline din surrounding Internet-delivered video: the time disparity between traditional TV viewing and online video watching is enormous. Although viewers spend roughly 18 hours a month with leading online video brands, according to the Magid Associates findings, the same individuals spend 102 hours a month watching ad-supported cable programming on television. (The numbers are based on 2,200 online interview responses collected in February and March 2012.)
The bottom line, Cunningham said: “Ubiquity of TV, but strength and momentum of second screens.”
Some of the survey findings interest us. For one thing, Magid found 59% of tablet owners hadn’t yet used the devices to watch video. Also, there’s evidence the quality of the online viewing experience is getting better, as Magid recorded big increases in scores assigned to video quality. Similarly, people think video content and breadth is improving on the Internet, but at the same time, they say television itself is getting better, content-wise. “It’s good news for the ecosystem,” Cunningham said.
Overall, however, quality and experience rankings tend to follow a neat pattern: The larger the screen, the higher the score. That means television remains at the top of the food chain, from an experience standpoint, while mobile smartphones, although increasingly popular for video playback, are at the low end.
As for advertising acceptance – the willingness of viewers to intuit a sort of economic contract between content and commercials – television again holds the higher ground. “The strongest contract is still with television,” Cunningham said.
Taken together, the findings suggest a sort of evolving hub-and-spoke video system, with television at its center, “feeding the ecosystem.”
Our take: CAB’s view offers a tidy, comprehensible roadmap to the video evolution that’s meant to assure media buyers they’re not making mistakes by making television the centerpiece of mass-market campaigns. But that won’t fully absolve nervousness on the part of agencies about missing the Next Big Thing in video advertising, said Mullen Advertising’s Chief Operating Officer John Moore. “The one thing that scares us in the agency business is that none of us want to be left behind,” he told the panel.
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