Maybe it’s nostalgia. Or the fact that I’m getting old. But despite all the alternatives, I don’t want traditional TV to go away.
Yes, I know that TV is just a screen and as such, it will never go out of fashion for advertisers who want to reach an audience. But ever since I learned that there was a bump in ad dollars headed to linear television in the wake of brands pulling programmatic digital advertising due to brand safety frustrations, I can’t get it out of my head that maybe linear TV — which for the purposes of this article includes live broadcast TV, cable and recorded versions of these — still has a future in our ever-expanding media mix.
Turns out there are others who are as optimistic as I am.
Tech has led TV’s evolution
Television has changed a lot since its humble beginnings as the late 1920’s emerging tech. From black-and-white to color, antenae to digital, tubes to LCD, TV has simply adapted to the times. So there’s no reason to fear it can’t withstand today’s challenges, which include a fractured and distracted audience, improved performance by competing content vehicles and measurement obstacles.
Still, Paul Lindstrom, head of research and analytics for Tunity, an app that allows users to scan a muted live TV and stream the audio directly to their device, says linear TV is here to stay.
“I don’t see any scenario where linear TV is going away,” Lindstrom said. “First, as long as there are live events there will be a need for linear TV. Linear TV (including linear streams of channels) allow[s] access to these events for everyone. Streaming as it exists now as an on-demand service inherently does not. Additionally, I think that there is a collective consciousness that thrives in shared experiences. Linear TV allows us all to potentially see the same program or event at the same time. Think of the Royal Wedding, the NBA or NHL Finals, or the season finale of Walking Dead — these are shows that people want to share and discuss. It is why everyone who wants to see The Avengers runs out on the opening weekend.”
Lindstrom says that viewers experience linear TV in different ways.
“It may be at home or it may be in bars with friends, at gyms or a number of other locations,” Lindstrom said. “Moving forward, linear TV will be different but its inherent value as a distribution source, a method for brand building, and a common experience for consumers will still remain.”
Streamers still tune into traditional TV
A recent Nielsen Local Watch Report said that on a typical day, 93 percent of those who streamed content also watched traditional TV.
Justin LaPorte, vice president of Audience Insights at Nielsen, says the report “officially dispels the myth that linear TV is dead.”
In fact, traditional TV shows impressive resilience in today’s multi-screen world — even among those who have entered into the realm of over-the-top (OTT) streaming … This high-tech, young and affluent group [of viewers] is actively seeking out content the traditional way. In fact, the average streamer aged 25-54 consumed over 121 hours of cable and broadcast TV in November  , which breaks down to 4 hours, 20 minutes per day. While the coexistence of traditional and digital media continues to define itself, marketers and advertisers can rest assured that both platforms provide an effective way to reach their audience.
Social is both a foe and a friend
Social media is definitely taking eyeballs from TV, as it’s turning out to be a faster, cheaper and more effective way to advertise. A 4C/Advertiser Perceptions survey of 300 advertising decision-makers released Tuesday says that 84 percent of advertisers would increase their TV budgets if it offered the same level of accountability, transparency and understanding about the consumer that digital advertising provides.
And Snapchat recently released research from Nielsen and Neustar that showed the social media channel getting up to 13 times the return of TV at 1/25 the cost.
Still, the thing that’s trying to kill linear TV might be the very thing that gives it life. There is a demonstrated link between TV and online behavior, and one that will increasingly be leveraged by marketers.
A Nielsen Watch Effect study showed that audiences are more likely to tune into linear TV after visiting Twitter.
And a recent Video Advertising Bureau (VAB) study focusing on the performance of 16 “expanding” brands shows a marked spike in online behavior directly connected to TV advertising. It should be noted that these are not old-school brands that have historically dedicated ad dollars to TV. These are upstart so-called “disrupter” brands that are including TV in their media mix because it works.
Though looking at a small sample size, the VAB report spotlighted companies that saw increased website traffic after a TV campaign. Chewy (+222 percent), Nerdwallet (+181 percent) and Stitch Fix (+95 percent) all saw significant spikes.
For online subscription apparel service Gwynnie Bee, a TV spend meant a 117 percent increase in search queries, a 232 percent increase in social interactions and a 79 percent lift in overall online views.
And that trend is set to continue. These 16 brands spent a collective $800 million on TV in 2017, 78 percent more than the year before.
Attribution and measurement is catching up
One of the main advantages of digital media is, of course, marketers’ ability to immediately determine how well their ads are performing. It’s no wonder the advertisers referenced above in the 4C/Advertiser Perceptions study want better accountability, transparency and insights from TV.
Fortunately, we are seeing progress in this area. SpotX is a supply-side platform (SSP) that works with Nielsen analytics to connect the dots between connected TV (CTV) and linear TV media buys. Connected TV is television accessed through an internet connection — sometimes known as smart TV. The company says that brands that run CTV campaigns on its platform will “be able to understand the unduplicated and incremental reach of a campaign’s ads on connected TV and linear TV using Nielsen metrics. Additionally, SpotX can use Nielsen analytics to provide a deeper understanding of CTV advertising alongside linear TV, desktop, and mobile devices.”
Marketing platform Viant’s newly upgraded automatic content recognition (ACR) platform can relay data about the programs showing on TV, whether they come from cable, over the air or over-the-top (OTT) boxes.
And just this week Nielsen Catalina Solutions announced a new solution to measure in-store sales driven by advertising across screens. The tool measures and compares incremental sales per platform, including linear TV (including data-driven), OTT, addressable TV, connected TV, desktop, mobile web and mobile in-app.
Voice may give TV a boost
A Connekt study in April said, “TV could be the missing link to spur voice purchases using voice-controlled devices such as Amazon’s Echo and Google Home.”
A majority of consumers (74 percent) said they would purchase a product they see on TV using a voice assistant, whether in a commercial or in a program. With the continued increase in usage of smart speakers, voice assistants and other voice-enabled technology, we may see more of this effect as we move forward.
Follow the money
As recently as first quarter of 2018, broadcast channels seem to be favored by investors over streaming channels. CBS’s earnings came in at $1.32 per share while ABC’s parent Disney’s earnings towered at $1.89. In comparison, streaming channel Netflix posted only a $.64 increase. The demonstrable financial value of broadcast channels (which also create streaming content) shows that investors aren’t giving up on TV any time soon — and that content, rather than the medium, is the driving force.
“The question can be looked at as, ‘Is TV the device on the wall or is it the content?’” Tunity’s Lindstrom said. “I think of it as a division of continuously providing programs versus delivering on-demand. If linear TV is content delivered continuously regardless of device (mobile, tablet, TV etc.) and method of distribution (cable vs internet), then it is a fundamentally broad-based source that is ideally suited to large events and live programming.”
So, dead or alive?
Decidedly alive. As its link with social deepens, as better and more reliable measurement emerges, and as technology continues to offer us new and unique ways to consume content, linear television is here to stay.