Advertisers Settle the TV Relevance Debate

Is traditional TV still a thing?

A vicious and long-running debate exists surrounding the topic of the longevity of TV. Okay, so maybe it’s not that vicious, but it has been a recurring conversation.

One side of the debate says that digital will take over completely and leave TV in a lonely corner of obsolescence within a matter of a few years. The other side says TV isn’t going anywhere and that digital and TV will settle into a mutually beneficial relationship.

Which side is right?

Luckily, we don’t have to decide. Advertisers have kindly arbitrated the debate for us. Here’s some of the headlines around this year’s upfronts.

1. Networks convincingly defend their value. You might expect network executives to have a bias for TV, so it comes as no surprise that they had plenty of arguments in TV’s favor. But they told a rather convincing story with the data they presented. In an article titled “Forget About the Internet, Network Execs Say–TV is Still Where It’s At,” Fortune wrote about some of the highlights from the upfronts. Matthew Ingram writes,

Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg has talked about how the social network gets “a Super Bowl every day on mobile.” But TV execs point out that a Facebook view is anything longer than three seconds, whereas the Super Bowl is watched by hundreds of millions for hours at a time.

2. There’s something to be said for things that work. New York Times writers, John Koblin and Sapna Maheshwari, reported that advertisers will spend $9 billion on TV this year during the upfronts period alone (totals for the year will near $72 billion). The rest of their article explores how that’s possible in the year 2017, when so many shiny new alternatives to TV exist. They turned to an industry expert for part of their answer:

But isn’t buying a 30-second spot on television a little, well, out of date? As a media analyst at Pivotal Research, Brian Wieser, put it, advertising on TV is “as archaic as water flowing through pipes.”
“You could set up a drone to take water from a reservoir and use fascinating technology and cutting-edge approaches to deliver it, but there’s a good reason we use these systems,” he said.

3. Even when given the choice, many still go for TV over digital. While the article doesn’t directly refer to upfronts, Rani Molla of Recode published “Most Americans can get internet on their TV — but they’re still mostly watching plain old TV” during the upfront period. His article summarizes data from a report released by the Interactive Advertising Bureau:

Since 2015, there has been a 20 percentage-point increase in the share of adults who can get internet video on their TV, either through the TV itself or by using a device like a Chromecast … But a large portion of the time (39 percent), people are using these TVs to watch old-fashioned live TV. As for internet video, they’re streaming Netflix or YouTube or Hulu about 24 percent of the time.

4. Let data call the shots. In a rant-style article published in The Drum titled “TV is not dying – it’s lies, damn lies and bad media statistics,” Samuel Scott defends TV’s relevance by revealing logic gaps in critical articles from TV’s haters. He also strikes back with evidence from various data sources that TV is here to stay:

Why do so many digital marketers think that television is dying despite all of the easily accessible information that says otherwise? It comes down to the false consensus effect that is created by the biases of the most popular information sources as well as the mistaken assumption that customers are just like marketers.

5. Ad money always tells the truth. A sure-fire way to know where TV stands is to look at where advertisers spend their money–and they keep pumping billions into TV. But why would they if digital is so appealing? Mike Shields of Business Insider gives four reasons he thinks advertisers keep committing huge portions of their budgets to TV in his article, “Here are 4 surprising reasons why advertisers can’t quit TV.” One of his four arguments claims that CMOs like to see their ads. He writes,

As much as marketers say they want to try more sophisticated ad tactics, such as using better data and tech to deliver precisely targeted ads, they also really like to know that their expensive new commercial is running during the second ad break of “Law & Order SVU” on Wednesday night so they can tell their boss to tune in.

So is TV’s relevance getting challenged? Yes. It would be ignorant to say it isn’t.

But is it relevant? Most definitely. And advertisers will continue to affirm its relevance with each dollar they spend on TV advertising.

Sam Petersen
Sam Petersen
Content Marketing Manager
Sam is a conflicted marketer. He loves being creative, but also thrives on numbers and analytics. Sam has worked in several messaging-focused roles during his career, including journalism, PR, product marketing, and now, content marketing. When he's not stewing over his conflictual identity, he heads to the mountains to hike, ski, run, etc.