The 5 Myths of TV Viewership: What You Don’t Know Might Surprise You

January 4, 2010

TV remains the dominant medium for content consumption across the 3 screens, even with the growing presence of video content on web and mobile platforms. Yet 5 great myths — urban media legends if you will — about trends in television consumption have managed to become commonly held beliefs, even among senior Marketing professionals. 

5 TV Viewing Myths

And like the proverbial alligator in the New York City sewers, they just don’t want to go away. As the new year begins, it’s time to disentangle the myths and their realities: 

MYTH #1:    Young People are Watching Less and Less TV
REALITY:    Youngsters Have Always Watched Less TV

A positive correlation has always existed between age and TV viewership — older people watch more, younger people less. This is simply a function of time available, as older people have more of it. A recent Nielsen Wire post (Disclosure: I work for The Nielsen Company) showed that adults aged 65+ watch 38% more TV hours per month than those ages 25–34. And, viewers aged 12-24 watch even less.

TV Viewing: Always Lowest Among Younger Viewers

It’s true that children and teens watch less TV each month than adults do —  but contrary to popular belief, they are not replacing TV with the internet for video consumption, but have always watched less TV than older people. Instead, younger consumers are supplementing TV with new web and mobile mediums.  

MYTH #2:  Ratings are Down Due to People Watching Less TV
REALITY: Ratings are Down Due to Network Fragmentation

TV viewership in the U.S. is actually up over the past decade. The number of TV channels in the U.S. has more than tripled since 1990, and the availability of more channels has spread audiences more thinly. As a result, the average channel audience and program becomes smaller, driving lower ratings.

TV Viewing -- More Channels Means Lower Ratings

Accenture research on television viewership shows that over the past year, there has been a 5% increase in viewers watching six or more television channels and a 6% increase in viewers watching eight or more television programs per week. For marketers, fragmentation means that TV program engagement metrics to measure the engagement of viewers with TV programs become even more important.

MYTH #3:  Small Channels Have Highly Loyal Audiences
REALITY: Small Channels Are Small and Disloyal

Small channels face the same “Double Jeopardy” laws of small brands. Fewer people watch small channels and those who watch don’t watch for very long. Even when a small channel has an above average amount of viewers, viewers still only spend a small proportion of their total viewing time on small channels.So, the commonly held belief that you can reach a small, but highly loyal group of viewers on a small channel is false–small channels, just like small brands, are small because of fewer viewers and the viewers they do have aren’t that loyal.

MYTH #4:  Audience Demos Differ by Channel
REALITY:  Demos Are Similar Across Large Channels

Audience demographics vary far less than expected among large network television channels.

Large channels have almost identical demographic profiles. (Data courtesy of Nielsen Media Research, Inc. 2009)


Most network content is so broad based in appeal that, apart from obvious exceptions (Kids channels, music channels, etc.) the larger channels and networks do not have significantly different audiences.

MYTH #5:  Programs Have Highly Loyal Audiences
REALITY:  Programs Have Relatively Low Loyalty

Research shows that repeat rates for TV programs are generally low — around 38%. Repeat rates are lowest for comedies and low rated shows (see Double Jeopardy above). For perspective, most CPG companies consider a 50% repeat rate the bare minimum hurdle for a successful new product.While admittedly not a perfect comparison, the reality is that the same exact viewers are generally not watching a program week in and week out. Viewers tune out because of inconvenience, availability, lack of interest, family preferences, and other reasons.

TV Viewing — Myths No More

Research shows TV will continue to reign as the preeminent advertising platform for the foreseeable future. TV viewing habits have proven to be remarkably impervious to social and technological changes and the introduction of new media. In fact, the research that’s been done on the topic suggests that there has been no significant decline over the past 15 years in the effectiveness of TV advertising generating sales lift (see Joel Rubinson blog).

Where Should CMO’s Focus ?

CMO’s should focus on creating media strategies based on the fundamental truths about longstanding TV viewing behaviors. Avoid the popular urban media myths that are so rampant — e.g. TV is dying.

Focus instead on how your brand can use TV advertising in a more integrated way with new digital, social and earned media. This will be the real space for innovation in the future.  After all, those fictional New York City alligators have yet to migrate out of the sewers and into TV land.

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Why TV Viewership Keeps Growing

November 30, 2009

Against all gravitational odds, TV viewership continues its inexorable rise. The average U.S. consumer now watches TV 32.9 hours per week, versus 26.3 in 2000, a +20% increase. With the growing presence and ubiquity of the web and mobile, how can this possibly be?


TV Viewing -- More Screens, More Content, More Options

Supply Drives Demand

The simple answer is supply.  Consumers now have more places, means and content to view than ever before. It’s a well established fact in many industries that supply can drive demand.


  • P&G once learned that Bounty Paper Towel rolls with +50% more sheets lasted only +33% longer.
  • In the food industry, research suggests that the more food a person is served, the more they tend to eat. 
  • Costco’s focus on large sizes is designed in part to drive increased consumption.

And when people have more TV’s, more channels, and more ways to control their viewing, guess what?  You guessed it, they consume more TV.


Drivers of TV Consumption

  1. More TV’s to View – Consumer households contain more TV’s than ever. The average household now has 2.8 TV’s, up from 2.4 in 2000. With more TV’s, there are more opportunities to watch.

    More TV's Per Home Drives More Viewership


  2. More Viewing Content – The expansion of cable and satellite TV has provided viewers more content options than ever. The average 2008 viewer had over twice the number of choices as in 2000 — 130 channels versus just 61 in 2000.
  3. More Viewing Flexibility – The rise of the DVR has provided viewers greater viewing flexibility. Time shifting is on the rise. Now consumers can record their favorite shows for playback whenever it’s convenient-and it’s easier than ever before. For an interesting take on the impact of DVR’s, see “How the DVR is Saving TV Advertising.”
  4. More Quality Viewing – The introduction of new TV technology (e.g. high definition, plasma, etc.) and digital TV have improved the viewer experience. TV picture quality has never been better.

TV Isn’t Dead

Contrary to what some would have you believe, TV is alive and even growing. What does this mean for Marketers ?


  • TV continues to be a core awareness building block for mass appeal brands. Any mass appeal brand which needs to build awareness and brand equity simply can’t ignore TV. It’s broad reaching, it’s efficient, and it’s still effective. Nielsen IAG data shows no significant decline in key advertising effectiveness metrics–awareness, branding, likeability–over the past 5 years. Great TV advertising is still just that – great.
  • Marketers need to focus more on the effect of “context” on their TV plans. Specifically, Nielsen IAG research shows that program context makes a big difference. Ads aired in high engagement TV programs have high recall and vice versa. And matching your brand’s equity to the equity of the program can enhance ad pursuasiveness.
  • TV is becoming increasingly digital and interactive. Already, many brands are experimenting with interactive TV (iTV), and new technology promises to bring web interactivity to your future TV as soon as you plug it in. As well, Marketers need to do more to understand same program/cross-platform viewing–e.g. viewing of the same program across TV, web and mobile.

Where CMO’s Should Focus

The data shows that the demise of traditional TV is way over-blown. That said, CMO’s need to push their brands to innovate in this traditional medium. Opportunities to do so abound. New targeting capabilities, ad and media effectiveness measurement approaches, interactive TV technologies, and cross-platform viewing dynamics promise to challenge Marketers even as they are reassured that TV is far from dead.


What’s your brand doing that’s new in TV ?


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Why Your Brand Should Understand TV Program Engagement

September 28, 2009

For what seems eons, advertising has been bought and sold based on eyeballs — audience size and demographic composition. Does your brand need to reach women, aged 18-35, who live in the suburbs? No problem. No wait, actually there is a problem. All programs aren’t created equal, even when viewership and demographics are the same. The fact is that some TV programs are more engaging–much more, and some less–much less. Some authors have recognized the problem, as in the recent “Let’s Kill the CPM” post on Tech Crunch, but few know how to solve it.

Does Viewers TV Show Engagement Matter? (courtesy of Imagocommunity)

Does Viewers TV Show Engagement Matter? (courtesy of Imagocommunity)

TV Show Engagement — What Is It ?

TV show engagement is the degree to which viewers are involved in a program and are sufficiently immersed to understand the plot, characters and storyline (if there is one). Think of your own personal viewing experience:

  • How engaging is the content of the program?
  • Is the program a continuing series?
  • Are you viewing the program alone or with others?
  • Are you viewing because your spouse controls the remote?
  • etc.

All of these factors, plus a myriad of others, directly impact viewers TV program engagement. Engagement is not a measure of audience size. Very popular shows can have low engagement, just as niche programming can have very high engagement. But, as we all know, advertising is still bought primarily on the basis of viewership and demographics.

Does Program Engagement Matter ?

In a previous post, “How Digital & Measurement Innovation is Changing Marketing Accountability,” I discussed new media measurement approaches. From some of these new measurement tools, it turns out that TV program engagement matters a lot. Specifically, Nielsen research (disclosure: I now work at Nielsen) shows there’s a very strong correlation between TV program viewer engagement and ad recall. To put it simply, ad recall is driven not just by the ad creative, but by the program environment it sits within.

Ad Recall -- Highly Correlated to Program Engagement

Ad Recall -- Highly Correlated to Program Engagement

Marketing Analogues — Context Matters

CPG companies spend lots of money researching and defining optimal retail shelf sets:

  • Does my brand have more stopping power on the top or middle shelf ?
  • Should line extensions be grouped together or separately?
  • Do large sizes belong at the bottom or to the right? etc.

Retailers research the “desired shopper experience” and how to design store layout and offering:

  • Do consumers shop the store to the right or left ?
  • Should perishables be at the front or to the rear?
  • What categories should be placed together? etc.

Is there any question that environment and context matter in Marketing? Of course not. So, why shouldn’t the same logic apply to TV advertising and media? Does my ad work better in “Lost” or “American Idol,” based on viewer engagement with these programs? Now you can know.

Implications for Marketers

Marketers can use basic program engagement in several ways.

  1. Improved Efficiency & Effectiveness— With engagement data, your brand should be able to achieve the same overall ad recall and awareness levels, but at lower spending levels. Alternatively, you can deliver higher ad recall and awareness levels for the same spending. Effectively, program engagement data allows you to shift the “GRP vs. Awareness” curve in your favor.
  2. Negotiating Leverage — Program engagement data gives you insight and knowledge–and this translates to power. Now your brand can negotiate not just for guarantees on audience and demographics, but minimum engagement levels as well. Suddenly, your brand benefits from increased insight and understanding of TV program quality.

Sound futuristic? It’s not–all the major U.S. networks–NBC, CBS, Fox, ABC, etc. are using the data, as are many large advertisers. TV program engagement is a new Marketing metric that every Marketer should be aware of if they want to make their advertising and media plans work harder. Who knows, perhaps one day it will even help the networks develop more engaging content…

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What’s Wrong with Word of Mouth Marketing

August 17, 2009

It’s common knowledge that word of mouth (WOM) by people you know is the most effective advertising. Research corroborates this:

Word of Mouth -- High Impact But Low Spending: Why ?
Word of Mouth — High Impact But Low Spending: Why ?

Yet, most Marketing organizations don’t behave as if it’s very important. According to PQ Media, 2008 WOM spending was $1.7B, +10% over the previous year. Estimated U.S. Marketing spending ranges from ~$500B all the way up to $1 trillion; WOM represents only 2-4% of total spend. So, why the impact vs. spending disparity ?  The answer, I think, is two-fold:

  • Word of mouth remains a black box for most Marketers — it’s really hard to figure out and even harder to do well.
  • It hasn’t been easily scalable–either within a persons social network or beyond.

Word of Mouth vs. Viral Marketing

Some people differentiate between WOM and viral. WOM is described as one to few, viral as one to many; as well, viral includes sharing and resharing–usually via the web. I think this distinction is largely false as WOM can become viral–e.g. the recent United Airlines guitar video (4.9M views).

Word Of Mouth Marketing
Word Of Mouth Marketing

WOM should build your brand. The mainstream media love to report on highly creative viral videos–e.g. the T-Mobile sing-a-long in Trafalgar Square, etc. These videos do generate incredible amounts of viewing, but are they really building the brand ? Do they engage consumers to better understand how and why the brand is better than alternatives ?

Word Of Mouth — More Scalable in Two Directions

WOM is changing as the web enables two simultaneous phenomenon:

  • Vertical Scalability — The web continues to enable new ways for consumers to share information  both within their social circle and beyond. Sharing opinions and ideas through blogs, Twitter, YouTube, Social Networking sites, etc. has vastly increased the scalability of WOM, as one person can now reach most people within their social network instantly and of course, people well beyond.
  • Horizontal Scalability — The rise of social networks and OpenID, Facebook Connect and similar services will enable personal network portability. This means that friends and families–and their opinions–will be able to flow with consumers as they traverse the web and interact with products and services. So, WOM from your social network will now become available in places it wasn’t before.

Basic Elements of Word of Mouth

Given the rising importance of WOM, how can you harness this powerful opportunity for your brand ?

1) Define Who’s Talking — Within your brand users, there’s almost always a group of 10-15% of users who are “amplifiers.” These consumers have unusually large social networks and form part of their self-identity from sharing new information with friends and family. Similarly, there are important non-users who need to be identified as well — bloggers, heavy Twitter users, etc. who can disproportionately impact your brand.

2) Define What They’re Talking About — Amplifiers don’t just randomly talk about your brand. In fact, they tend not to talk about your core mainstream messaging. Why ? Because everyone already knows about it; they get no psychic reward because there’s nothing new. They tend to talk about and share things that are important to them and also new and surprising about your brand–positively or negatively. Conduct research among amplifiers to understand the main themes they are talking about.

3) Determine Which Mediums They’re Using — Where are amplifiers talking about or sharing your brand ? Off-line in casual conversations ? On-line via Facebook ? Understanding which mediums amplifiers are using to talk about your brand gives you insight into how to facilitate or enable these conversations. Do research to find out.

4) Understand What Receivers Are Doing Next — Understanding receivers is just as important as understanding amplifiers. Without a receiver there’s no WOM. Most important is to understand what receivers do after hearing a theme. Do they visit the store ? Search on line ? Visit the web site ? Consult another friend ? Share via Twitter ?

5) Test and Qualify WOM Stimuli — If we know who is sharing, what they’re talking about, in which channels, and what receivers are doing after the conversation, then what ? Using WOM themes, develop a range of stimuli — e.g. customer experience “moments of truth,” white paper/special user content, tips/how-to’s, personalized web micro-sites, etc. to help drive accelerated word of mouth. Run a small test versus control. Did you get more people to talk or share your stimuli ? What did listeners do afterwards ? Did you build your brand equities ? Increase consideration and purchase of your brand ? Which stimuli worked best ?

WOM is hard work. Like most Marketing, it starts with really understanding your consumer. But the consumer understanding work is not well understood. And WOM is even harder to drive in a systematic and disciplined way. As WOM becomes more important, it becomes increasingly important for Marketing organizations to increase their WOM capabilities and most have a long way to go. What’s your Marketing organizations WOM IQ ?

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Why Your Brand Needs an Acoustic Identity

August 10, 2009

We’re all aware of the powerful nature of music in our personal lives. Music instantly conjures up long forgotten memories, and in fact, we can usually complete the melody of any well know tune after hearing only a few notes. As Tolstoy once said: “Music is the shorthand of emotions.” How many brands actually understand and leverage this power in their marketing efforts ?

Acoustic Identity -- Does Your Brand Need One ? (visual courtesy of museum of the gulf coast)

Acoustic Identity -- Does Your Brand Need One ? (visual courtesy of museum of the gulf coast)

I recently met with Susan Aminoff, Managing Director at EliasArts, an acoustic identity and branding agency, to talk about the role of acoustic identity in brand building. Susan made the point that there is now a sizable body of research which validates what we all intuitively know–that an acoustic identity can be a key element in your branding and an important means of reminding consumers of your brand. As Susan noted:

“Not taking advantage of audio from a brand (vs. a commercial) level is a huge lost opportunity, on so many different levels.  Every brand needs an established and distinguishing voice, so that it can engage in dialogue with its consumers.  Sound is the most enduring and sustaining of all our five senses and our brand messaging; it is a powerful transporter of the brand’s emotional values…and it has the ability to unleash the whole brand story — the one that you’re spending millions of dollars telling — in just one note.”

In fact, Martin Lindstrom discusses this phenomenon in some detail in his book “Brand Sense–Build Powerful Brands through Touch, Taste, Smell, Sight, and Sound.” This book and others have documented the growing literature which support the ability of music to powerfully engage humans in a myriad of ways–not the least of which is branding.

Why Acoustic Identity is Becoming More Important to Your Brand

Beyond the science, there are other reasons to be thinking about an acoustic identity for your brand. In particular:

  • Media Fragmentation — Fragmentation means complexity. Complexity makes it even more important that there is a simple, common theme–or “red thread”–to your marketing efforts. Your brand promise is the ultimate red thread, but music can augment it.
  • Print to Digital — Consumers have been moving on-line and until recently, spending less and less time with off line media. This means there are more opportunities to engage them not just visually–but with sound as well.
  • Brand Proliferation — The past decade has seen a blizzard of new products, many of which are not significantly differentiated. Consumers are overwhelmed with sameness. Acoustic identity represents another potential differentiator.

Acoustic Identity — Benefit Focused or Attributed Meaning ?

Just to be clear. I’m not just talking about the use of music in advertising. I’m talking about using an acoustic element as an important part of your brand signature–everywhere the consumer touches it. There are at least two schools of thought on creating an acoustic identity for your brand.

  1. Benefit Focused — The most obvious approach is to create an acoustic identity which directly supports your brand promise. The idea is to architect the sound or music so that consumers naturally associate it with your brands benefit–even without knowing the product or service. A great example of this is the piano music scored for the UBS “You and Us” TV spots. The music is peaceful, serene and intimate. It directly supports the brand’s promise to understand you and your needs so you have more confidence in your financial decisions. The brand demonstrates it’s value proposition through advisors 1:1 listening (intimacy) and client’s confidence (peace of mind). The music evokes these feelings even when heard without the UBS context.
  2. Attributed Meaning — The second approach is to create a sound, or leverage an existing one, into an acoustic identity that you attribute meaning to over time via use in your brand building activities. An example of this would be the NBC 3-note ding-ding-ding, which used to signify “station break.” NBC took this instantly identifiable station break ID, and turned it into a real acoustic identity with many variations and themes so that it’s now instantly understood as “NBC.” Other examples include Intel Inside and United Airlines well known use of “Rhapsody in Blue.” Each has come to represent its respective brand through repeated and consistent usage.

Acoustic Identity — Creative or Brand Driven ?

This naturally leads to the question: who or what drives the need for an acoustic identity? Historically, it’s often been driven by the creative process and the development of new advertising. Think of the United Airlines example above. There’s nothing wrong with this approach, but I’d argue that it’s way too narrow.

Given the vast array of potential customer touchpoints in most business models, and the almost limitless ways to utilize sound and music, an acoustic identity should be a key marketing driven activity–and not relegated to the agency creatives. So, who drives it ? Whoever is leading the brand.

Music has the proven ability to remind us of a brand, differentiate it versus competition, appeal to our deepest emotions, and encourage us to engage with and ultimately purchase it.  Given the media fragmentation, print to digital trend,and brand proliferation,  it’s more important than ever that Marketers begin to think of their branding not just in terms of a visual and logo, but an acoustic identity as well.

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Is the New PR Really Just the New Marketing ?

August 5, 2009

Is PR becoming more like Marketing ? I recently read a fascinating white paper by David Meerman Scott,  “The new rules of PR: How to create a press release strategy for reaching buyers directly,” an insightful dissection of the changes digital and social media are driving in the world of PR. David notes that:

“Today, savvy marketing professionals use press releases to reach buyers directly…The media has been disintermediated. The Web has changed the rules. Buyers read your press releases directly and you need to be talking their language…Your audience is millions of people with Internet connections and access to search engines and RSS readers.”

Now I don’t know about you, but it sounds like PR is evolving to be more like Marketing. Why? Because traditional media is no longer the key intermediary it once was. PR is becoming more direct–just like Marketing.

Is the New PR Really Just the New Marketing ?

Is the New PR Really Just the New Marketing ?

What is PR ?

Historically, PR has been differentiated from Marketing in several ways:

  • It communicates with multiple stakeholders, many of whom don’t buy the firms products or services — e.g. media, analysts, NGO’s, etc.
  • PR addresses topics of public interest using mediums that don’t require direct payment, unlike advertising.
  • PR often occurs thru 3rd parties that provide legitimacy that traditional marketing doesn’t have.

It’s clear that Marketing and PR, always uncomfortable bedfellows, are becoming more, not less, similar. For example:

  • The rise of social networks is increasing the influence of opinion leaders who don’t buy the products or services, but are influential nonetheless. Someone needs to be tasked with engaging and influencing them–but who?
  • Digitally enabled news releases, social media, and corporate web sites have created numerous opportunities for companies to communicate with consumers without paying anything for media. Is this PR–or Marketing?
  • Traditional media is under assault by the twin forces of non-subscription based alternatives and the democratization of information and news via blogs, Twitter, etc. Who manages these new “gatekeepers?”

The Erosion of Traditional Media as Gatekeeper

The key point is that the traditional media no longer hold a near monopoly on media and publishing. Marketers can often go direct to consumers with tools long associated with PR, but without the barriers to getting published. Again, to quote David:

“The news cycle has changed…With Web-based access to information, consumers have real choices for how they learn about the world around them…Not too long ago, the only way for corporations to influence news was for their PR people to issue a press release (intended for media only)…Editors and reporters were in a power position as the filter between organizations and the public. With the old news cycle, all PR people knew the rules: The ultimate goal was to get some magazine or newspaper to write a positive story that would appear weeks or months later…No more. Information control is decentralized.”

What Does This Mean For Marketing ?

  1. Marketing Must Take A Leading Role in Understanding Consumers PR Needs — In the past, PR could be trusted to know what the media wanted and what would get published. With the disintermediation of media, the need to understand consumers PR needs becomes more important. This is a task uniquely suited to the Marketing function. Segmenting various stakeholder groups, understanding their different needs–opinion leaders, users and non-users may all have different motivations–is a critical first step.
  2. Marketing Must Adapt its Communication Style — News releases and other PR like channels–even direct to consumer–are not advertising. While Marketers are trained to understand how to use advertising to communicate effectively with consumers, this training is lacking when the mediums are PR centric. Consumers have different expectations of these channels and communication styles and tonality need to change with the medium. Marketers need to listen to consumers and learn what works and what doesn’t.
  3. Marketing Must Drive a Content Publishing Strategy –– A simple recitation of the brand promise is unlikely to be very effective with these channels and mediums. Marketing needs to drive a clear content strategy that springs from the brand promise. Content that surrounds, supports and deepens the brand promise becomes an integral part of the PR communication strategy. Marketing needs to define and drive this.
  4. Marketing Needs to Optimize the Web Site for PR — Part of the new PR model is ensuring that your web site and web capabilities can enable the appropriate new PR efforts. This includes posting news releases in a news section on your site, ensuring your news posts are search engine optimized, enabling RSS feeds to key distribution channels, optimizing brows-ability so readers can find new information, and optimizing links to related content.
  5. Marketing & PR Need to Define New Governance Models — These changes beg an important question: what is the right organizational structure and governance model for the Marketing and PR organizations? Are they one or separate ? Does PR report to Marketing ? is there a division of tasks? If so, who owns what? The CMO and Chief Communication Officer (CCO) need to have a joint and aligned game plan for how to play in this new environment.

PR is going through many of the same transformational challenges as Marketing. The disintermediation of the traditional media means that Marketing will play an increasingly important role in PR going forward. CMO’s need to take notice and define how they and the CCO will tackle this new Marketing challenge.

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