In linear TV, primetime garners a higher CPM than any other daypart. Why is this? Do people only watch TV between 8-11? Are people who watch TV between those hours more likely to buy your product? Do they have more buying power? No, no, and no. The simple truth is, primetime still commands a higher CPM because media buyers believe the potential broad reach of the show will include the target audience they’re after.
The state of primetime in 2018
On demand, DVR, and VOD have turned scheduled primetime viewing into any time viewing. Appointment viewing has become a rarer occurrence for many viewers, saved primarily for sporting events or new Game of Thrones’ episodes. Today people can plan their viewing around their life instead of the other way around.
This means primetime content may not be viewed during primetime, or even during the same month of air. “CBS says for the full TV season, time-shifted viewing boosted its initial airing of TV episodes by 53%, totaling an average of 12.1 million prime-time viewers for Nielsen’s metric of live program-plus 35 days of time-shifted viewing across multiple platforms,” MediaPost reported recently.
An eMarketer report shows that primetime content has a higher likelihood of being consumed delayed compared to total TV viewing.
Sure, primetime TV still brings in the masses, but not like it used to. To cite an overused example, Mash’s 1983 finale garnered 123M viewers. In contrast, the highest rated non-sports program in the 2016/2017 season was NCIS with 14.6M viewers. People spend more time on TV (according to eMarketer, on average 238 minutes a day) than any other media, but they also have more choices than ever of what to watch.
What this means for advertisers
Now consider the implications for advertising. This may not affect brand awareness campaigns, but what about movie studios pushing to drive patrons into seats for the opening weekend of Star Wars? Or how about a Black Friday or Christmas ad that is not viewed until the week after the sale?
My point is, you can’t just buy a few broadcast primetime spots and expect to hit all of your target audience anymore. Because of any time viewing, networks are missing out on the true value of their viewers. Meanwhile, advertisers that only value prime are potentially missing their audience.
An old dog with new tricks
No need to throw in the towel. All is not lost, TV is still the best way to reach an audience at scale and it’s evolving to keep up with the times. Tools like addressable advertising and audience targeting are making it so TV buying is more of a science that is cost efficient. In effect, these tools can redefine primetime.
Cable and broadcast networks have recently been expanding their sales arsenals to include audience focused offerings. It’s a trend influenced by the launch of Open A.P. in 2017, but it’s also generally how content owners operate. They’re constantly on the lookout for new ways to monetize their finite amount of inventory.
Addressable TV advertising is one of the most promising ways to get more out of inventory (primetime or not). Although it’s been around for some time, targeted advertising on TV has been dominated by MVPDs. Distribution groups operate with set-top-boxes, which means they have a targeting tool that other players in the industry can’t replicate. But technology is catching up.
Addressable TV options are growing
The reign of the addressable oligopoly is meeting new challengers as new technology gives more power to networks. Strategic alignments between broadcasters and content owners have opened the door for networks to monetize individual impressions. In other words, the addressable TV landscape is expanding beyond MVPDs and more advertisers will be able to reach their target viewers.
New tools becoming the new primetime
Advertisers can finally use TV to hit who they want when they want with the message they want – they don’t have to rely only on high-priced primetime spots. These new tools (addressable TV and audience targeting) have the potential to make any time primetime, but so far the ad industry has only dabbled in the space. The TV and ad industries will have to leave habit aside and embrace these new tools to reap the benefits.