Despite Audience Slippage, TV Still Offers Scale

2017 08 15   Peter Feinstein   TV and Ratings    

NOTE: Just so there’s no confusion, this is not a political essay. It’s a look at effective advertising media.

For advertisers, the important takeaway from a July Bloomberg Businessweek article (“The Remaking of Donald Trump”) is that The Apprentice, while hosted by Donald Trump, accumulated mass-reach numbers in sufficient quantity to become an important advertising vehicle to a very substantial set of brands.

Advertisers are always looking for scale. The Apprenticedelivered. TV, which is the macro of The Apprentice, always has delivered scale — and still does. It likely will for as long as I’ll be in this business, and probably for as long as you’ll be too.

It’s just that pervasive — regardless of how the wonks in over-the-top (OTT) and other digital media spin their propaganda. All their fancy stats and infographics can’t undo the truth: TV is just about the only place you can buy scale affordably.

The article summed up The Apprentice’s strength for brands as the ability to “… buy a program that has a big audience, as opposed to having to aggregate an audience by buying five smaller ones. If you can have one mass program that brings you a diverse audience, that’s a beautiful thing.”

If you swap out the word “program” for “media,” you get the idea of TV’s power – and how fragmented, powerless, and wasteful digital media is.

There is no way to buy scale easily in digital media. Yes, you can enlist the help of a buying desk and let them cobble together a media plan, but you will still not get affordability and scale. In digital, they are mutually exclusive.

This has nothing to do with The Apprentice — just the law of large numbers. The larger the numbers you start with, the less it matters that portions of the audience erode, especially since erosion does not happen on a 1:1 basis.

TV doesn’t lose viewership to one entity; its audience slippage is split up among at least a couple dozen players, with more being invented every month. None of them is really a legitimate alternative to TV, no matter how they want to position themselves.

Even if 20 percent of TV’s market goes away, and you spend 80 percent (of what you used to spend) to get that remaining 80 percent of the TV audience, the 20 percent of your budget that you have left over can’t effectively buy that escaped 20 percent. It’s a moving target. I’d be smarter to just keep the budget intact, with high confidence.

It’s not possible yet to target that 20 percent with any scale, but it will be — soon. Then we’ll have a different conversation — and even then, it won’t be about Trump, it’ll still be about the media and large numbers.