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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Local TV Copy Lengths--Is There a :05 in Your Future?

The thirty second television commercial or :30 is still the dominant player in U.S. advertising world. But, some recent events increasingly indicate that its reign may be a bit shaky.

One of the problems, not surprisingly in 2009, is the continued growth of time shifting devices which we will collectively refer to as TiVo. As TiVo grows, fewer and fewer people see commercials. So, television becomes less and less effective although it still remains a powerful selling medium.

Months ago, in this blog, I mentioned how what took 1100 rating points in a certain TV daypart mix seven years ago to move the sales needle for a client of mine required 1400 points for similar results two years ago. It is hard to get precise today with the very weak economy but I would bet that there is a fairly direct causal link between TiVo penetration in a Designated Market Area (DMA) and local TV effectiveness. A recent study indicates that TiVo penetration, now at 33% nationally, but higher in some markets, could hit over 50% in 36 months. If that happens, the TV model that has sustained so many of us for so long will start to fall apart. When the Wal-Mart shopper and people of similar demographics starts editing out commercials in a big time fashion, our game is in the late innings.

What does this have to do with :30’s? I would say quite a lot, actually. Video games are not my favorite thing. But, they have trained an entire generation or two of young Americans to focus and react with lightning speed. People seem to be able to absorb things a bit faster which lends itself to shorter copy lengths such as 10 or 15 second commercials. Couple that growing facility with the remote, which most of us can use quite well to graze across the cable or satellite landscape in a two minute commercial break. Finally, add a TiVo which allows you to zip through commercials in a program that you have taped. Speed is the thing these days. Increasingly, many many people are getting very hard to reach with a standard 30 second commercial especially if it is embedded in the middle of a two minute break.

When TiVo was beginning to make some headway about 7-8 years ago Honda developed five second spots that were said to be “Tivo proof”. The :05’s played at the end of breaks so when TiVo snapped back after you jumped the commercials you would usually see the entire :05. If you look closely and ask around a bit as I have, you will find that shorter length spots are beginning to find their way all over the broadcast landscape.

Polling stations around the country yielded some interesting things. In smaller markets (under DMA rank #50) broadcasters said that they do not get many requests but are formatted to handle :10’s, of course, and many will do :07’s. In larger markets, people have been running :05’s for several years. A few run :01’s, :02’s, or :03’s as well although most describe that as a branding or reminder message. For some like Coca-Cola a :03 or a :05 might make sense as everyone knows who and what they are.

Many see the :05’s as a way for cash strapped advertisers to slip into Primetime that they could not normally afford. But others say they are hearing rumblings about the “TiVo effect” from some local players who want their spot to be seen. One broadcaster in a surprisingly small market told me “First quarter, 2009 was a disaster. A couple of people asked to do :05’s and one guy wanted to do a :02. I grabbed some of our station promotional time and did whatever they wanted. I was still way below budget for the quarter but they helped me pick up some ground. And, the clients were happy and thought that the brief spots worked.”

I also heard from a production house chief who produces hundreds of spots per year for a stable roster of clients. Our paths crossed 30 years ago and we have become reacquainted as he reads Media Realism.:) The guy has deep experience and is irascible, imaginative, has great passion and a superb work ethic. He also has a boatload of common sense. His take is “you have to accept that TV is now a billboard and place your logo and image so that it repeats or stays constant when “Tivoed”. We use close to all :15’s these days which increases our Reach & Frequency without raising expenditures. Smart stations will start selling 2-3-4-5 second spots in their promo breaks. We use :05’s sometimes and they work! TV is not going away; it is simply getting quicker.”

Now, please understand that we are not saying that in two years a two minute break will consist of 24 five second spots. But, it appears that something is happening. This leaves some local cable players in a bad spot as they get two minutes an hour from New York on most channels and have little leeway for unorthodox or imaginative lengths. Conversely, two distinct Regional Sports Networks (RSN) have told me that they are experimenting with :05’s which is relatively easy for them as they control their own programming.

Also, if we do move to shorter copy more of the time, it seems to play into another theme that Media Realism has been talking about in recent months. Entrenched players have a big advantage over newcomers to a field as they have high name recognition. If brief spots have a higher likelihood of being seen they are using their money better than new players who have to explain who they are in a conventional :30 which will not always be seen in its entirety.

When a newspaper once falsely published that Mark Twain was dead, he responded by saying that “the news of my death is a bit premature.” Don’t write off the :30 completely yet, but it days appear to be numbered. If you buy spot TV, experiment with other copy lengths now!

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

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