It’s time for traditional media to reassert itself

Old school media enjoys audiences online channels can only dream of, but it must find ways of winning back advertisers’ hearts

It’s been another good week for traditional media – hard to believe in these challenging times of falling ad budgets – but the consumer still loves our products.

Take TV. The latest Broadcasters Audience Research Board (BARB) figures trumpet record viewing for commercial broadcasters (which is one thing all advertisers should care about) and beyond that to the new channels that distribute TV content – like the iPlayer, ITV Player and 4OD. All are growing. In fact, it’s remarkable that while web-based on-demand TV is on the up, it’s yet to make any inroads into time spent with traditional telly. When it does – that’s not a worry – the overall world of TV will be larger and the opportunities for advertisers more varied.

At ITV, knockout audience figures – like the 19 million who tuned into the final of Britain’s Got Talent – sit alongside the decline of Friends Reunited (remember that? – the online hot ticket of 2005). The business was sold earlier this month for £25m. That’s a measly one-seventh of the £175m ITV over-paid for the business four short social networking years ago. Newspapers and outdoor may be having a tough time, but they’ve not collapsed in value like the 86% decline in four years at Friends Reunited.

Meanwhile, over on Sky, our leading satellite broadcaster recorded the best subscriber additions for five years, just in time for the new football season. Sky remains well on track to beat its target of 10 million subscribers by 2010 – and footie fans have a serious credible new player showing FA Premier League games with the arrival of Disney-backed ESPN. If you thought Sky was big, you’d be staggered by the sports content and breadth of viewership that ESPN delivers in the US.

At the same time, radio enjoyed a second successive quarter of record listening figures. Yes, that’s record listening figures. According to the latest Rajars, 46 million adults tune in each week – that’s 91% of us – and new distribution platforms are leading the way, with digital listening hours up 19% year on year, DAB radio set ownership up 22% and listening to radio via mobile phones up 15% over the same period.

If revenue follows audience (as we were all taught), why is the bunting not being put out all over traditional media?

Of course, there is a cyclical disconnect between record consumption of traditional media and record annual marketing budget cutbacks in the teeth of a downturn. But more than that, too many advertisers and planners remain seduced by new media press releases rather than old media audience delivery. Let’s look again: Spotify has yet to hit 2 million registered users – and that’s worldwide; TV bosses would be appalled if one episode of a prime-time soap on any given day pulled in so few viewers in the UK alone. Absolute Radio has more listeners to Christian O’Connell than Spotify has users worldwide. No wonder David Cameron chose his breakfast show recently to lament the t**ts who over-indulge on new media.

It’s time for the traditional media to win back the hearts of advertisers and planners, just as the audience figures should win their heads. We need new insights, new ideas to win the emotional battle for space on the schedule, as well as the rational battle.

Here’s a couple of ideas about consumer behaviour to get us started: First, digital businesses often trumpet the breathtaking choice and breadth of content they offer – every music track ever recorded, every book ever written. But any retail-trained marketer knows consumers are bamboozled by too much choice. That breadth is too much hard work for anyone other than a real music geek or bookworm.

Contrast this with traditional media, where the TV scheduler, the newspaper editor or the radio programmer is your best friend: an expert who does the content selection job for you. If you were an FMCG brand owner, you wouldn’t encourage your consumer online to view thousands of different detergent products from around the world and then select one at random. Instead, you’d work with Tesco to edit the selection that’s appropriate for the UK market. That’s what traditional media does. The audience figures suggest consumers welcome that editorship more than ever in a difficult-to-navigate fragmenting media world.

Media planners are editors themselves, guiding advertisers through the bewildering array of choice otherwise available without expert advice and, in this context, pride themselves on being engaged with the latest news in the media world. It’s ironic therefore that when tasked with connecting brands to consumers, they appear to undervalue the editor responsible for enhancing consumer engagement with linear media content.

Second, much digital media consumption (especially when you have the headphones on) is a solitary experience. The iPod is great when you want to “escape” from the world. But other media, especially live media such as radio, help you “engage” with the world. In this context, the presenter is exceptionally important, connecting you with the world in real-time. Isn’t that the time when you would want your consumer to see or hear your ad? Engaging with, not escaping from, the world. Research backs this up – the more control people have over the medium they are consuming, the more likely they are to edit out advertising.

With consumers voting with their eyes and ears, perhaps it is time to revisit the value of well-produced traditional scheduling within the media plan.



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