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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Great Interregnum

In European history, there were a number of instances where a country was said to be going through an Interregnum. It is basically a fancy word for two Latin terms meaning “between kings.” Sometimes a king died without children and other times there was a civil war or a young child was not ready to succeed his or her father. The longest period happened in the German Empire from 1254-1273 and was known as The Great Interregnum.

This 19 year period was one of disorder and civil war. No single claimant could rally enough support to secure the endorsement of the nobility. Finally, they settled on Rudolph of Hapsburg, a minor noble who was something of a compromise candidate whom the many princes in the far flung empire thought would not make waves.

Rudolph was not a scholar and little was expected of him. But, he turned out to be shrewd. By marrying off four of his daughters to key princes across the region he consolidated his power. From a shaky start in 1273 a Hapsburg reigned in either Germany or Austria right through 1918. Quite a run for a family of minor nobles!

I believe that we will soon face a form of interregnum in the US media world. King TV is old and will soon die having been an almost autocratic advertising medium. What will happen to our world when TV as we know it ceases to work for our clients?

Talk to any experienced media professional in confidence. All of them will tell you that TV does not work as well as it did even five years ago. Most will admit that it will continue to get worse; others will say it will just be different. For the record and to clients or top management they may keep to the party line about TV’s effectiveness, but most know in their hearts that the game as we have experienced it is rapidly coming to an end.

Now, I stress that TV is not going to dry up and blow away. The decline will be continual and gradual. It will be similar to the fragmentation in viewing that has taken place over the last few decades. But one day, not that far away, advertisers are going to wake up and discover that TV no longer pays out for them.

It will come down to an issue that we have mentioned a great deal in this blog in recent months—many people will no longer be seeing the commercials. TiVo and other time shifting devices will continue to grow. Hulu, You Tube and a dozen other video options will continue to grow and take time away from traditionally commercially supported television. Make no mistake. Viewing of video may actually increase over the next few years. But viewing of commercials, as we know them, will definitely decline perhaps by 25-35%. That will put a great stress on whether an investment in conventional broadcast TV can pay out profitably for an advertiser.

Some players, local cable in particular, have some interesting new products which can help them blunt these inevitable changes. And, alternative means of viewing TV such as Hulu and some emerging Hulu clones may likely prosper in this new environment (we will discuss Hulu.com at length in an upcoming post).

All this adds up to a growing sense of urgency. Advertisers and their agencies must start to branch out and test multiple forms of new video opportunities. Experiment with copy lengths and use new turbo charged targeting techniques to reach prospects with video. Many people are using the current severe economic downturn as an excuse not to broaden their horizons. But if they wait much longer they may find themselves in two years time jumping on to a moving train which is an unpleasant and often dangerous experience.

When will the great media interregnum come? Many say when the upfront network marketplace dissolves. My opinion is that it will be like a stealth bomber and sneak up on us. It could be as soon as three years and as long as seven. But it is surely coming. Make your plans now.

Finally, some who agree with me say that they are afraid what will happen to them both professionally and financially when TV no longer is the silver advertising bullet. True, the commercial persuasion industry that we have all known, loved, and been rewarded by is soon to go out of business. But, please, my friends remember this. You may lose your job during this upheaval and some of your savings. But one thing I know for sure--true financial wealth is completely portable and rests on your shoulders. You have knowledge and experience and can thrive no matter how our world evolves.

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

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