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Life in the old TV dog; and ‘Grey’ pride

12 Aug 2019  |  Dominic Mills 
Life in the old TV dog; and ‘Grey’ pride

As the "Flat Earthers of Traditional TV" fight back against reports of TV's ill health, Dominic Mills has his own observation to add to the mix. Plus: Why Pantene should focus more on men

Last week’s news agenda in adland was dominated by the latest findings from Ofcom’s 2019 Media Nations report describing the UK as a nation of streamers. The narrative is a familiar one, showing a decline in live viewing as take-up of alternatives — Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube, BVOD and so on — increases.

Overall between 2017 and 2018, traditional TV viewing is down from 203 to 192 minutes a day (a drop of just over 5% by my maths), while that of streaming is up about 35% (to 26 minutes a day) and YouTube +21% (to 34 minutes per day).

The gloomsters and doomsters, to borrow a term from you-know-who, focus especially on viewing trends among younger audiences. No surprises there.

Meanwhile, those whom one observer described as the Flat Earthers of Trad TV, fight back. Here’s Mark Ritson leading the charge with the argument that reports of TV’s death dive are, to steal from Mark Twain, overstated and misinformed. Marketers who therefore shrink their TV budgets to account for this are mistaken, he says.

His key point is not to argue with the figures per se, but to remind marketers that TV remains a popular, powerful and effective medium.

Thinkbox, for its part, points to a stat estimating that TV accounts for 95% of all video advertising viewing. Unless Facebook and YouTube drastically increase their share of market, this isn’t going to change much any time soon. The reason: the new TV options available to viewers are for the most part SVOD and therefore ad-free or, at best/worst, ad-light.

Let me add my own ‘Flat Earth’ observation to the mix: the latest figures from the US upfronts suggest that advertisers have re-engaged with traditional TV in a meaningful way. In the US, I should add, siren voices predicting the death of TV have been far more pronounced than over here.

Disney has reported a 5% increase in commitments for the next season, albeit including those channels acquired as part of the Fox deal; Viacom maintained its volume levels of spending but achieved double-digit price increases; and NBC achieved a 10% increase in volumes across its properties, or 3% if you strip out next year’s Olympics.

Just read the headlines on this summary page from Broadcasting and Cable.

Looking at the commentary, there are two points worth noting. First, broadcasters are beginning to reap the rewards of their investment in technology and digital diversification.

NBC, for example, reported strong advertiser take-up of addressable TV options (some of which, I think, is coming from its adoption of Sky’s AdSmart following its purchase last year) as well as from giving advertisers access to its content on any screen or platform. Disney, for its part, stressed a 50% increase in addressable deals.

Second, advertisers are paying more money on a CPM basis for their TV impacts, with Viacom claiming price increases of more than 10%. Here’s an interesting piece by Brian Wieser of GroupM on inflation in media.

There is an obvious paradox here: viewing is going down, but prices are going up. It’s hard to sort out the balance of forces behind this: supply and demand is one factor; second, a willingness to pay more for more advanced options; third, broadcasters may be chucking more value-add into the mix to sweeten the pill; and finally, this may be the expression of a reevaluation of the power of TV among advertisers.

But not all, because while it is clear onetime mainstays of broadcast TV advertising like P&G are rebalancing their media spend, the newcomers — principally the FANGsters, but also other digitally-centric entities like Booking.com and eBay — are increasing theirs.

In a nutshell then, US advertisers are paying more for less. That doesn’t seem too much like the death-rattle of TV to me.

Grey pride (and purpose) or Pantone v Pantene

I don’t know whether P&G’s Pantene is taking a strategic leaf out of any rival hair products from Unilever, but judging by this new campaign from Pantene, it has embraced the power of purpose: in this case, it is about celebrating the grey.

Pantene claims that it wants to normalise grey amongst both men and women, even though the messaging, which includes OOH at Westfield as well as social media and influencers, only features women.

I’m all for it, even if the cynic in me thinks this is an example of purpose-wash covering up two business imperatives: sell more product to an ageing population and widen your market at the same time.

But why don’t they focus more on men? As this front page of The Times Saturday Review ten days ago shows, some men struggle with grey (Mick Jagger), while others (Keith Richards) are comfortable with it.

I once had a business lunch with a man, in the first working week of the New Year, who turned up with hair carrying a light metallic green tinge. Conversation was tricky to say the least, as was making eye contact.

And that’s the thing: when men dye their hair, they look ridiculous. Worse, they look as though they’ve bought a £5 tub of the stuff and then applied it themselves over the bathroom sink. Paul McCartney, in his chestnut phase (Pantone 2469 C, I think), exemplified this. At least he has now seen the light.

Cliff Richard meanwhile, has gone from a chestnut to strawberry blonde.

This, if you like, is what happens when Pantone defeats Pantene.

When it comes to men then, Pantene needs to be braver. Surely it could hire Mick Jagger as a brand ambassador? Or, failing that, use all the adtech at its disposal to target and retarget him relentlessly with one-to-one personal messaging. After all, we hear all the time that mass personalisation is the new, new thing.

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VicDavies, Course Leader, Bucks New University on 12 Aug 2019
“May need to look at this in the round. So compare US Economy v UK , and likewise total ad revenue changes. It will interesting to see what happens in this autumn’s TV negotiation round in terms of how much the market shifts or not. And what part Brexit plays in this.”
SteveH, Pundit in another life, tvstrategies on 12 Aug 2019
“Best category name I've seen in a long time: 'Flat Earthers of Traditional TV' - maybe even a good name for a band.”