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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

WEB TV hits its stride

For the past several weeks, I had been working on a post regarding Web TV. On Friday, February 17th THE WALL STREET JOURNAL beat me to it with a very nice feature in their Friday Journal section entitled “Web TV’s New Lineup.” If you have not read it already, I highly recommend it.

In brief, they covered many of the new entries that have just begun or will soon debut on the web. Highlights include Netflix’ “Lillehammer” which I mentioned last week and a revival of “Arrested Development”, long a Fox cult favorite, also on Netflix. Madonna is producing a channel for You Tube that will have talent hunts and highlight videos dubbed “Dance On.” Amy Poehler, the pride of Boston College, is working on a You Tube channel funded by Google, called “Smart Girls at the Party”. It is said to build self-esteem for young women. Plans are for several A list stars to sign on to projects shortly.

The Journal piece focuses on production issues and signing bankable stars. My take is a bit different but consistent to what you have seen in previous posts over the last few years.

Simply put, many of these projects will likely crash and burn. So what! Since I have been in the business, some 72% of new network series never made it past their first season. Some will catch on, however, and a few could really have a significant impact on viewing trends and ultimately advertising.

We are all sick of hearing about fragmentation. But, this trend toward Web TV can only accelerate it. If I watch another episode of “Lillehammer” this weekend (and I will), it will take me away from some form of advertiser-supported television. There will likely be several hundred thousand like me and, once again, TV as we know it, will spring another small leak in delivery. If some of these shows catch on, they could do ratings comparable to a fair sized cable network. Should they be unusually well produced, they will get critical acclaim and buzz. This is very important with young people who are comfortable watching video online or even on their i-phones.

So, a few successes on Web TV will make the attractive upwardly mobile young demo even harder to reach than it is now.

A lady whom I admire and respect dismisses my thesis as nonsense. She is a very light TV viewer who is attracted to Web TV but says she would likely be doing something other than watching some form of video if she were not viewing a Web series. I see her point but feel that she is in a small minority. Few are as well educated, sophisticated, or lead a varied life as she does. For the overwhelming majority of us, every hour with Web TV will take us away from advertiser supported broadcast and cable.

As a viewer, give Web TV a chance. It is one more way to give you control watching good programming when and where you want it. Should you be a media planner, your job of hitting some key demos will just get tougher.

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

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Hemingway and Changing Media Trends

There is a marvelous passage in Nobel laureate Ernest Hemingway’s THE SUN ALSO RISES. A character, Mike Campbell, is asked how he became bankrupt. He answers, “two ways. Gradually and then suddenly”.

As usual, Hemingway says things with great conciseness. The quotation came to mind this week as I watched with amusement and interest three things happening in the advertising world. The three events appear totally independent but there is a common thread among them from my vantage point. They were:

1) P&G Chairman Bob McDonald hinted that the global personal care and household product giant might “moderate” their $10 billion ad budget as his brands get “free” impressions via Facebook and Google. The comment set off a firestorm in some quarters. The comments, often from ad agency principals, were that Facebook was not free. Unquestionably, working with Facebook can be labor intensive if you are to manage, track, and optimize it properly. But, in McDonald’s defense, such items as e-mail forwarding, blogs, Likes, and sharing are ways that things get a life of their own without an agency’s help. And, don’t forget You Tube. If you post a commercial on You Tube it may generate millions of impressions. Good ads tend to go viral and that is indeed free. These are not the easiest times to work in an advertising agency so we all can understand a bit of defensiveness. Over time, however, social media almost has to make ad spending more efficient than it has been historically.
2) Nielsen announced that young people, particularly those 25-34, are still watching video of all forms but less on conventional platforms such as advertiser supported TV and cable. We discussed this some time ago, as it appeared that a number of recent graduates of elite universities were simply using their laptops to cover their video needs. While only a few hundred thousand are going cold turkey on cable or satellite, the trend is growing. And those who do subscribe to cable or satellite are now viewing more Hulu, Netflix or other sources. Advertiser supported TV of all forms has to suffer as commercial avoidance is now gaining steam.
3) Speaking of Netflix, they just released their first made for Netflix series—"Lillehammer". I caught the first episode and loved it. It is about a New York mobster who enters the witness protection program and chooses to move to Lillehammer, Norway considering it safer than any United States hideout. All eight episodes were released the same day. It is great fun and rivals the quality of the very best HBO series.

How do these three events tie together? It is pretty simple—our business is changing and the old models are, to paraphrase Hemingway’s Mike Campbell character, “gradually going bankrupt.” Social media is here to stay and will evolve. And portions of it will provide free or far more efficient delivery than today. Young people are living a lifestyle that allows them to control when they watch video content but commercial avoidance can only soar and will not be limited to DVR playbacks or channel hopping. And, finally, every hour that we spend with a "Lillehammer" or fellow traveler, is an hour away from advertiser supported content.

The pace of change appears to be quickening a bit. The real challenge will be how to reach the affluent young adults a few years from now when millions more will be very hard to capture via conventional means.

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

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Musings on the Summer Olympics

Back in December, I was putting out feelers to members of my panel and a number of others regarding 2012. Depending on what markets they worked out of or what media they focused on, responses varied a bit. One thing, however, struck me. For the first time in 40 years, no one made more than a passing reference to the Summer Olympic Games that will be held in London this year from late July to early August. Hence this post. What has gone wrong with the Summer games to the point where they have become almost an afterthought to broadcast and cable salespeople, agency media executives, and some fairly high powered advertisers?

I went back to a few dozen people and probed. Was it the lack of competition with Soviet Russia, the presence of professionals in virtually every sport, TV fragmentation, the pulse of modern life or anything else they could dream up?

First, I quote a friend from my Boston College days. He does not work in broadcast or advertising but is in communications. His comments on sports, which he follows avidly, are always astute:



The Summer Olympic games have certainly lost their allure. Some factors:

1) The fall of the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc.
Competition with them was a morality play: the good and free vs. the slave states, which were also excellent in athletics, because, we were assured, they cheated.
2) The drug scandals. People immediately question exceptional performances, even though the Olympics now probably have the most stringent anti-drug testing and standards of any sporting event.
3) Parity of competition-Track & Field is the symbol and centerpiece of the Olympics. Scientists say that the greatest reason for the lowering of world records is that many more people now compete and have access to modern training methods and equipment. Many, that is, very, very many of these people are from distant continents. Interest in individual competion necessitates the familiarity of the spectator with the main competitors. The PGA Tour suffers when Tiger is not a factor. People want to see Tiger vs. Phil; recently they have been getting some major wins by some fine young players who then fade back into the pack in later tournaments. (Remember how the press would criticize Tom Kite for making millions but not winning tournaments?) It is the same for Olympic Track & Field. Well-known American and British Empire runners would go into the Olympics with great public anticipation. Now, a casual glance at the list of men's record holders of non-hurdling races shows only one American, retired Michael Johnson. Most are from Africa. I couldn't name them, could you?
4) There are many more sports on TV now, with many more outlets, starting with ESPN and other cable outlets. Local news is more likely to lead with the score of a mid-season Red Sox game than with Olympic results.


Next, here are some comments from someone who has sold broadcast and cable for years, remains a knowledgeable fan, and always has his feet on the ground. To him, a big problem is what he dubs the “Dream Team effect.”

Dream Team effect:
When the NBA players participated for the first time in 1992 with the original “Dream Team,” it was fun to see these guys playing for our country but is did not seem so much like the Olympics as it was a basketball exhibition. Knowing that the U.S. and other countries are sending “professionals” in different sports seemed to lessen the perceived genuine competition of Faster, Higher, and Stronger – for those who were not getting paid. Baseball and Tennis players competing is somewhat strange to me as well.
24/7 today:
Now with full coverage on multimedia outlets, plenty on cable, of events, athletes and all different sports it reminds of the NBC Baseball Game of the Week impact. I truly enjoyed watching the sole Saturday telecast as appointment viewing and now the proliferation and availability makes it great to enjoy any game, any time but somehow it does not seem as special. There may be too much for even an ardent sports fan like me to catch all the action.


One of the smartest people that I know who has sold sports from time to time over the years weighed in this way:

To your “not being brought up” point…I’m hearing it lumped more with political, as the most common reason why some are staying away. First that it will be on the front end of political spends, but also…Political spending has become like the Super Bowl in that advertisers fear they can’t be on television. The only TV rates neophytes might hear is how much a :30 cost in the Super Bowl. So too…we spend so much time talking about Obama’s Billion that it scares some away from spending in September/October. Reality is the Late News doesn’t cost what it used too, and zoned cable options are available even more efficiently.

Some people have told you that it is “not worth the trouble”…this one I get. It’s a huge logistical nightmare on the front end, which only intensifies when they arrive. Live sports of any sort is always tricky, so compounding that tenfold only makes for more stress. Add in middle-of-the-night events, time zone peculiarities, language barriers, whether issues…it’s a wonder we can harness it well enough to sell. Have to package/sell the Olympic ideal, because the individual sporting aspects are too fluid to define. In the end…the Olympics are not about the competition, but much more so the personal narratives of those involved.

Others told you that the summer games are “losing their glow” which is an interesting take. On some level I agree, but it’s easy to say that in January. Come August I’ll be wrapped in it like many people, and it’s also one of a handful of programs you can watch with the family.

There is merit though to a lost glow …I blame first, the overall proliferation of sports available. In the 70’s we’d tune by Wide World of Sports for our only chance to watch Russian Vasily Alekseyev lift amazing weights over his head, and a year later remember the portly strongman in the next Olympiad. Were he around today, he might be a UFC fighter which means I could have watched all 37 of his matches on TV, while also being able to follow his eating, training and dating habits via the internet. Somewhere along the way he’d get a Nike deal and a Subway commercial. And eventually we’d learn through his reality show, that he and Vasily Jr. work as a Swamp Loggers during the day. We all have our saturation points.

A few people in their 20’s stunned me by saying that they will start watching the summer games when American football becomes an Olympic sport. One fellow said he was concerned that Olympic coverage could interrupt pre-season NFL and another said he will stick to MLB if his beloved home town team is in a pennant race.

Golf will appear in 2016 in Brazil and last week Jack Nicklaus, Annika Sorenstam, Gary Player, and Greg Norman among other luminaries all presented designs for an Olympic course that will break ground this fall near Rio de Janeiro. The addition of golf may add some new viewers for 2016.

What is my take? Viewing will be pretty good on a cumulative basis. In the heart of summer reruns, we will likely break the record of the Beijing games of over 200 million viewers during the two week run. NBC paid a lot for the rights so the profit picture is problematic. Times, however, have clearly changed.

When someone mentions the summer Olympics to me I think of one man—Al Oerter. He won the gold medal in the discus in 1956, 1960, 1964, and 1968. Al was a true amateur. He worked as an early professional in computers and arranged his training and meets around the Olympics. In 1964, he fell on a rainy day in the rink in Tokyo and was injured badly breaking some ribs. The US doctors urged him to drop out. He refused and won with his first toss. In 1968, as a college student, I was returning to my dorm late one morning when a guy poked his head out of the TV lounge and announced “Oerter is tossing.” Some 20 of us piled into the room to watch. One fool said “what is the big deal? He barely made the team this year.” After we all give him a dirty look, Big Al unleashed a mighty toss that put him in the lead. I had to leave and was stunned to hear on the radio a few hours later that he had his fourth consecutive gold medal and set his fourth consecutive Olympic record. Over the next nearly 40 years whenever I saw him interviewed he was modest, upbeat, and always positive. To me, he was the greatest competitor that I have ever seen. No one epitomized the Olympic spirit as much as Al Oerter did.

Will I watch some? Of course. But, like many things, the landscape has changed and, in this case, I am not sure for the better.

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