Digital Media

MEC’s Andy Wasef: I’m Having An Affair With My TV (All Of Them)

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This column was written by Andy Wasef, Head of Innovation and Technology at MEC, one of the world’s top media agencies. 

I’ll confess, I love TV. My job may center around the latest innovations (many of which I equally love) but I spend a large amount of my media diet consuming many of the great TV shows available yesterday and today (from The ‘A’ Team to Sherlock Holmes by way of Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire). My love of TV shows may cloud my judgment but, as a native of digital marketing (as opposed to a digital native!), it’s always somewhat baffled me why the whole industry has been so preoccupied with the ‘Death of TV’ for so long, with all manner of organizations determined to take a swing at what they evidently view as the industry’s cash piñata, and collect their share of the shift in ad dollars.

Despite the incredible ascension of the internet, the reality is that in many parts of the world – including in the US – TV viewing remains steadfastly resilient, often growing in time spent over that period. While online video viewing is undoubtedly a rapidly growing phenomenon, and new methods of content delivery are establishing themselves (YouTube, YouKu Toudu, Hulu and Netflix ,etc.); the reality is that, in terms of volume of viewers and especially weekly time spent, traditional TV viewing continues to dominate the landscape in many countries.

These types of numbers could lead us to easily look at this and feel comfortable in continuing doing what we’ve always done; focusing efforts on TV advertising and dabbling with some online and mobile video to tick the innovation box.  However, to do so would mean missing out on the many opportunities next generation TV can offer today, leaving us unprepared for tomorrow.

And it’s not cheating on my first love, TV.

Coming off the 2nd annual Digital Content NewFronts, there has been a clear shift in marketers’ perceptions and understanding of digital video’s capabilities as a complement to traditional TV viewing, marking a turning point for the digital media industry and for myself. TV/Video delivered through the internet in some form or other is likely to be the future delivery mechanism, and that’s not a bad thing. Digital video features TV’s best attributes (sight, sound, motion and high-quality, original content) along with digital’s benefits (reach, interactivity, targetability, measurability and flexibility), providing something attractive for both consumers hungry for content and the advertisers trying to reach those viewers.

People like me value quality content and, thanks to our overall shift towards multiplatform, will leverage any tool to ensure always-on access to “our” content. According to Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) US digital TV viewers are expected to rise from 106.2 million in 2012 to 145.3 million in 2017, while US digital movie viewers is expected to rise from 79.7 million in 2012 to 119.9 million in 2017. This rapid growth can be credited to the rise of Connected TVs.

Apart from the volume and type of video being watched on other platforms than the main TV screen, the much-discussed trend of 2nd Screening is fast becoming a mass-market reality representing both a threat and an opportunity for advertisers. As we saw during the 2013 Super Bowl (one of the world’s most watched annual TV events), CBS claimed there was an average of 108.41 million viewers tuned in, less than 2012’s 111.3 million, while Bluefin labs stated that viewers produced 30.6 million social media comments, up from 2012’s 12.5 million. Clearly viewers are still watching their content on TVs, but there are other outlets they are also taking advantage of.

On the flip side, this increasingly natural and ubiquitous behavior represents a potent opportunity for content makers and advertisers alike – something demonstrated by Pepsi’s ‘Pulse’, a social media-driven digital dashboard featuring trending pop culture and entertainment news.  Traditional TV remains the dominant video platform today, but the increasing investment and commitment from production houses in original content distributed digitally hints at plenty of opportunities, with digital quickly becoming a an essential part of marketers’ investments. And I can understand why.

What we saw at the 2013 Digital Content NewFronts :

Content providers proved that they weren’t just after ad dollars, but that they now better understand what viewers are looking for –  complete experiences that enhance their lifestyles and give them options. The result is not only better content, but also better overall experiences. Digital content providers are proving that they can take on original long-form content, investing heavily in original shows and feature-length films. There is an overarching focus on fresh, original content that provides provocative points of view, access and answers to some of viewers’ biggest questions, and entertains in ways that traditional content has not. Crackle introduced 6 original shows and 2 feature-length films, including season 2 of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, as well as the first digital movie sequel created for a hit motion picture, David Spade’s Joe Dirt, while Hulu announced 3 series and 7 exclusive shows. If they prove successful at generating audiences and revenue at scale, we will see the start of a slight shift in the balance of power.

Meanwhile, the dominant traditional TV players – while holding the young upstarts at bay – are also developing their own solutions for the next gen TV world. Multicultural network Univision used the NewFronts to announce Uvideos, a digital video network offering channels and original web series, as well as clips from top-rated telenovas and the exclusive online rights to over 750 futbol matches. TV everywhere has some way to go yet but gets closer every year, and all the networks are embracing the benefits that social TV and 2nd Screening bring, with massive amounts of live and episodic TV content currently being carried on ad-supported streaming channels.

Navigating the world of next generation TV and video is a complex task and added together with data showing the continued resilience of traditional TV viewing means it can be tempting (and comfortable) to believe we can safely continue as normal in the way we approach video advertising.

As digital content grows in popularity and digital TV and movie audiences continue to rapidly increase, it’s time to explore opportunities to engage with people in the digital media space. Just as consumers are seamlessly supplementing their main screen viewing with internet-delivered video and 2nd Screen experiences, we too need to re-frame the conversation away from TV vs. Online and think in their terms… that of the ‘Best Available Screen’ for content that they wish to view at any particular moment in time, in any place, in any mood. We live in an ‘And’ world, not an ‘Or’ world.

As long as I can get The A Team on Hulu and watch Boardwalk Empire anytime I want on HBO Go, I’m ok with that.