Succeeding in television is now an extreme sport. In the future, it might be even more challenging. It used to be that "value-added" meant more stuff for the sponsors to get on the buy. In the future, the term will need to mean a more lucrative buy from
In the 1990s, the marketing mantra was branding. That's still the Holy Grail of television positioning today, in our era of clutter and viewer fragmentation. Our industry embraced the importance of branding during the past decade. On that scale, I have to give the television industry an A for achievement.
But now the bar has been raised. Managers are being challenged by the demand for greater ratings and demos, as well as by an environment with less promotional inventory, smaller budgets and, in most cases, reduced staffs. Talk about reality TV.
So what's the mission in this decade? In a mature industry that's slicing the available-audience pie pretty thin, the new mantra has to be "monetize your viewers": Make your promotion department your new profit center. The successful leaders of this decade will be those who can monetize viewers, or produce real, new revenue from their ratings above and beyond the time buy.
Simply "selling spots" isn't enough to meet the profit expectations of the corporate parents we all serve. Television is now just about everywhere—in taxicabs and new Chevy 4x4s, on Palm Pilots and even video-screen cell phones. To keep viewers' attention on programs and their advertising, programmers are going to have to learn to seamlessly weave advertising and promotion through their programs and services.
Sports (think the Cadillac parked on the field during the Super Bowl on ABC) and reality TV (the Diet Coke cups on American Idol) deserve credit for being the development labs for these new moneymaking opportunities. With each generation of shows and promos, our industry's marketers are getting better and better at matching co-branded messages. And it works. Our research confirms that, even though this is an era when people increasingly tune out commercials, viewers remember product placement and tie-ins with sponsors.
Let's take it a step further and get into the change I'm really talking about. New shows like Live From Tomorrow
on The WB will break even more ground, weaving Pepsi and other revenue-generators into the show itself, without any commercials at all.
In Asia, cable channels like Discovery and MTV are brilliantly integrating sponsor messages into a new generation of network promos/ads. In effect, the promo and image spots for the networks themselves carry a seamless branding message for advertisers, which results in sold promo time that generates premium revenues in addition to the ad-sales buy.
(This new generation of promos will be the subject of a key session at the PROMAX/BDA conference in Los Angeles in early June.)
"Monetizing viewers" is the model for success this decade and can be creative, lucrative and fun. Doing it well can turn passive viewers into active consumers and will ensure your job prosperity for at least 10 years. That's a combination of factors we can all use for a change.