The “debate” over 30-second ads online

It’s understandable that the advertising industry — and certainly broadcasters — want desperately to hang onto the 30-second ad paradigm, so research from CNN as reported in today’s Online Media Daily should surprise no one. In a nutshell, CNN found that visitors to CNN.com “tend to let the 30-second ads play in their entirety.” But, as reporter Erik Sass noted:

(The) figures reflect only the percentage of viewers that permitted an ad to play without shutting it off–not necessarily the proportion of visitors that actually watched the ad. The study also did not address the optimum length and positioning of video ads in relation to other video content–currently hot topics of debate.
Long time readers of this blog will recall my encounter with MSN Video and MediaDailyNews over a report about optimum ad lengths for ads attached to video segments, such as news stories. The report said that MSN Video would attach a 7–12 second ad to individual segments. The next day, however, the report was changed to 15–30 seconds. I wanted to know why. The reporter told me that his source had called, which led me, after many days of investigating, to an interview with the two top guys at MSN Video. Optimum was indeed 7–12 seconds, but they were running 15s and 30s. Why, I asked? They told me it was because that was what advertisers would pay for.

The only thing worse than a square peg in a round hole is a square peg trying to get into a round hole.

This is a debated issue, but it’s only debated because the advertising industry is too bloody lazy to move to a 10-second paradigm. Not only is a 30-second ad a bad idea for streaming online, these things are killing broadcasting too, at least if you view the health of the industry from an audience’s perspective. The 30-second ad was a license to print money, and it produced a manageable method for growing profits. If you needed more money, you either raised the rates or shoved another ad in front of viewers. It’s not rocket science.

But that’s all in the past now, and viewers are in charge (and voting every day). Let me repeat something I’ve said before. If you put 30-second ads in front of an unbundled piece of internet content, you are asking users to go elsewhere. Why is this even debated?

You can do an awful lot with 10 seconds of undivided attention.

I have seen the enemy, and he is us.”

I’ve come to an interesting conclusion today about why media companies are so afraid of really interacting with their audiences, and it relates to this wonderful observation from Pogo.

Take a look at the comments to WKRN-TV General Manager Mike Sechrist’s post about making sweeping anchor changes at the station. As best I can tell, Mike is the only GM of a commercial broadcast station that maintains an active blog, so when the station made these changes, Mike felt compelled to post them. The reaction has been fascinating from an observational perspective and revealing about media in general.

Since Mike is the only GM with a blog, it gets a lot of attention from the world of local TV news. After the announcements Friday, FTV Live, a popular industry insider Webzine, posted a story about it. This spread the word, and soon Mike’s blog entry was being read everywhere.

Now, when you’ve been a third-place station for as long as WKRN has been, a lot of people come and go, and those who go leave with opinions about what they’d do if they were in charge. Many of those people didn’t leave on their own, and their opinions are even more harsh, and it’s clear when reading the comments to Mike’s blog entry that many of them come from disgruntled former employees. Add to that the fact that some of them still live in the community, and you can see why an announcement of anchor changes brings out the worst in them. Add to this the opportunity that competitors have to stick it to the GM, and you’ll understand why many of these comments must be taken with a grain of salt.

WKRN has built a solid reputation with local bloggers, and the blogosphere’s reaction has been much different. In fact, some of them are asking where all the vitriol is coming from. They don’t understand the business — and the people IN the business — which brings me back to my opening statement.

I believe media companies are afraid of interacting with their audiences, because they (mistakenly) believe that their audiences are made up of people just like them — resentful, mean spirited, backbiting, hostile egomaniacs with inferiority complexes who, if given the opportunity, will spout their opinions without regard or respect for anyone but themselves.

This is why I love the blogosphere so dearly, because the experience here is so different. Here, respect comes from a mutually-shared experience (blogging) and, I believe, a more realistic view of human nature. If you blog, you are respected until you give a reason to not be respected, and isn’t that a great way to get to know people? We used to call that “the benefit of the doubt,” but that’s apparently been lost in a media culture that looks first to find reasons to doubt before opening the door of acceptance.

We’ve truly entered the era of the “audience is your enemy,” and that’s pretty sad.

(NOTE: WKRN-TV is a client.)

Capturing moments

It’s Memorial Day, and my neighborhood is basically empty. Everybody’s out doing something with family, and I think that’s great. People will take a lot of pictures this weekend, because that’s what we do. We try to capture the moment for all time by taking pictures of it.

This is on my mind, because I’ve spent the weekend working on Allie’s memory book. You know what I value most about the pictures I have? It’s not the photos of special occasions when everybody gets together, and it’s not the formal, posed pictures taken by a pro. It’s not the family gatherings or the shots of her on-the-job in the TV News business.

What brings my heart the most joy are simple, candid pictures of every day life. You know the kind: no make-up, no special “good” clothes, nothing artificial — just life in its natural form. These are the pictures that mean most to me right now, because I don’t want to remember her just for the holidays or the special events. I want to remember the rawness that was myAllie.

And so my message to you this holiday weekend is that you take all the pictures you want today, but don’t forget to take a few tomorrow and the next day, too. For one day, you might find yourself in my position and discover that the moments most worth capturing happen every second of every ordinary day.

It just got worse

So Google Adsense now has an office in Englewood, Colorado, huh? They want to establish relationships with local advertisers and ad agencies in the Denver area.

WAKE UP!

(I’m hoarse from screaming that so often.)

Thanks for the tip from Stephen Warley at Lost Remote.

Holding back the (good) flood

A “stopper-doer” is an old term signifying a person who stands in the way of forward progress. Often well-intentioned and protective of the establishment, these people can stop any movement they view as negative. It can be a good thing to have one of these fellows (or gals) around, but for local broadcasters and the internet, these people would be best kept in a locked room somewhere.

There are two types of stopper-doers who are preventing local media companies from truly moving forward with regards to creative web strategies.

The first is local advertisers and especially advertising agencies. If you think local media companies are ignorant regarding innovation, then local advertisers are ignorance gone to seed. When approached with anything out-of-the-box, most will ask, “Well, what’s the audience size? Show me the numbers, man.” Blank stares are all that greets concepts like engagement, influence, loyalty or any other new media metric. Mass marketing may be dying, but that word hasn’t filtered down to the local level yet.

And nobody in local advertising is capable, it seems, of looking downstream to the world of possibility.

I find this enormously frustrating when trying to work with local stations, because the big technology players easily attract national advertisers who are more hip to imaginative new concepts and thus fund them. These are the same players who are moving in to seize local niches on many levels, and they “speak” directly to people who wish to advertise — not the keepers of most local ad dollars, the ad agencies. This means these outsiders are free to explore and establish in what is essentially a land grab at the local level. And even if a local company can match the application tit-for-tat, they’re at a disadvantage, because these local stopper-doers are too busy saying, “Duh.”

The challenge to media companies, then, is to find a way to speak to agency people and advertisers in terms that they’ll understand, and that’s not easy when you’ve built your life around reach and frequency.

The second set of stopper-doers are the lawyers who represent the companies that own the local stations. Now don’t get me wrong; it’s not so much the lawyers themselves as it is the GMs and corporate managers who don’t or won’t challenge the opinions (that’s what they are) of people paid to create the safest possible scenario for their clients. I find little willingness to legally explore citizens media opportunities or take any legal position other than that which is the most conservative possible. It’s often, “Oh, our lawyers would never permit that.” Permit?

This stems, I think, from an entirely economic, bean counter perspective, and it produces behavior that any shrink would view as dysfunctional. “Let’s only make right turns as we drive downtown today, because statistics show that you’re more likely to be in an accident while making a left turn. Can’t take that chance, you know.”

That’s easy for you to say, Terry. It’s not your company (or money) that you’re trying to protect.

Yeah, but you pay lawyers to give you their opinion and then follow those opinions as if the attorney owned the company. Of course the lawyer’s opinion is going to be conservative. That’s his or her job! But when your ship is heading for the iceberg at full speed, do you veer to the right or left or stay the course, because the bottom line says you must?

Do you see the insanity of this?

Where are the people with the balls to say, “Find a way to defend this,” instead of, “Well, I guess we just can’t take that chance?” Does the name Rupert Murdoch ring a bell?

And why not use the legal process to restructure your company to create protections by putting new media efforts in a separate corporation? There ARE ways to do creative things without exposing yourself to what you view as untenable risk, and to discard those along with creative concepts for new media because you “might” have problems is corporate malfeasance, in my opinion.

This is not the season to listen to the stopper-doers.

Broadcast revenue is up or down (or up AND down)

During a give-and-take email exchange with Business Week’s Heather Green over the past week, the subject of broadcasting revenue growth came up, and I told her it was down. She wrote back that it was actually up and asked me to explain. Well, it’s up or down depending on how you look at it, and an excellent report yesterday from BIA Financial Network, a Virginia-based financial advisory company, tells the story better than anything I’ve seen recently.

The story is that revenues are up 7.2% this year COMPARED TO LAST YEAR. The problem, of course, is that this is a no-brainer. Last year was an odd-numbered year (no Olympics and no political ads), and when compared to 2004, the decline is $300 million or approximately 1%, according to a story on the report in today’s MediaDailyNews. Here’s a wonderful graphic that shows the real picture:


© BIAfn, used here with permission
Mark R. Fratrik, Ph.D., Vice President, BIA Financial Network, notes in the press release that local television revenues are becoming predictably cyclical, with even years being up and odd years being down. He adds that one of the culprits is automotive advertising, which is painfully moving to what he calls “more contemporary mediums.” (Hmm. What does that say about broadcasting?)

The point, I guess, is that this is a time of great spin for the industry, and that if you want a realistic picture of what’s taking place, you have to look beyond the headlines. Dr. Fratrik points out that web revenues are a very small piece of the local ad revenue pie, but he expects that to grow significantly during the next five years.

“Local television stations are in precarious positions and must think creatively to drum up new revenue streams,” Dr. Fratrik said. “We believe there will always be a strong desire from the public to have access to local community and regional news. It is just a matter of the stations themselves identifying a mode in which consumers will be receptive to receiving it, and a method that can be profitable.”
And the key question for broadcasters is finding that “method” in a confusing and extremely liquid environment. Stay tuned, folks. These are interesting times indeed.