YouTube will never be a match for the telly

To be a marketer in 2013 is to encounter a peculiar form of propaganda in which all things digital are promoted as the replacement for, antidote to, and general nemesis of traditional media. That’s especially true for TV which, if the reports are to be believed, is on its last legs as a marketing medium.

Mark Ritson

It was this propaganda that fuelled the hyperbolic coverage of Oreo’s tweet during the NFL Super Bowl in January and the crazy conclusion that this social media campaign had ‘won’ the battle for audience impact versus traditional TV ads on America’s biggest night for advertising. This was despite the fact that Oreo’s tweeted message – that you could dunk your cookie in the dark – was seen by less than 1 per cent of the audience that watched most of the TV ads that night. Even if it had been seen by similar numbers, it would have been no match for some of the powerful 60- and 90-second executions aired that evening.

It was this kind of hype that encouraged Google chief executive Eric Schmidt to brazenly claim in May that online video would not only surpass traditional TV viewing but that it had already happened. He told advertisers that with YouTube enjoying more than 1 billion unique visitors every month, the site had taken over traditional TV viewing. Although his comments made for great headlines, it just wasn’t true. Traditional TV remains the dominant activity for most viewers and, according to consulting firm PwC’s analysis of global ad spending, it will continue to dwarf online TV ad revenues to the tune of £50bn versus less than £4bn as far off as 2017.

It’s the same propaganda that propels many very average marketing managers to spend too much money on social media despite being unable to show even the most basic return on investment. Several years into the digital revolution, most brands are persevering with their YouTube channels and associated online video despite the fact that they have poor subscriber numbers, representing a dismal fraction of their target market. At best these channels generate no more than 50,000 views for their most popular video, despite being posted nine months ago and heavily promoted at launch. Meanwhile the ‘dying’ medium of TV continues to deliver millions of eyes on screen on a nightly basis and, most embarrassingly, refuses to start showing either decreased audience numbers or spot prices.

The digital propaganda also enabled Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s vice-president of global marketing solutions, to recently tell the Financial Times that TV was no longer the first screen. “Mobile is the primary screen,” she claimed. Again it’s a nice statement if you are in the digital business but it hardly fits the data. While audiences, especially younger demographic segments, are clearly embracing digital viewing modes, they are not doing so at the expense of traditional TV viewing. 

“There is a popularised notion of the typical teenager constantly digitally connected. In fact, teens consume the vast, vast majority of their video content via traditional television,” says Sanford C. Bernstein & Co, which co-authored the 2012 report Why The Internet Won’t Kill TV. According to the research, American teens watched only 3 per cent of their total video consumption on computer or mobile device in 2012. TV remained their main viewing resource and was actually shown to be increasing among this group.

That increase was also identified in Ofcom’s analysis of UK media consumption. Despite the adoption of new digital viewing styles, TV remains the central model of watching video in this country. According to Ofcom’s data, average TV viewing has increased by an additional 20 minutes since 2005. “Increasingly, families are gathering in the living room to watch TV, just as they were in the 1950s,” explains Ofcom’s James Thickett, director of nations and market developments. The only apparent difference is that they are doing it a bit more frequently and on better quality TV sets. So much for the death of traditional TV.

I’ll leave it to younger, thinner and more gullible marketing experts to predict the demise of TV and the subsequent triumph of online video. I am older, fatter and come from the 1980s and can tell you, without even the slightest element of doubt, that the telly remains the most important brand-building tool for most brands, most of the time.

So bollocks to YouTube and bollocks to all those who would tell you that TV is dead.

Readers' comments (11)

  • Its all guff mark. We have a purely digital product (free to play tank MMO) and our audience have high spec PCs, excellent broadband and high net affinity. Our comms spend as %'s are as follows:
    TV 83%
    PRINT 6%
    RADIO 1%
    DIGITAL 11%
    Bollocks to them all.
    PS I am older, fatter and come from the 1970s.

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  • Agreed that TV plays a major role, but for SMEs it represents budget requirements that are well above and beyond the call of duty. Digital marketing can cost as much or as little as you want it to. For an SME TV advertising simply isn't possible and therefore the next best option is to explore YouTube and other Social websites where you can reach your audience for a fraction of the price.

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  • Thinkbox here.

    "Thanks Mark, for pointing out some of the unhelpful and frankly dangerous hype that is beguiling naive marketers.

    The TV industry doesn't think of the internet itself as a competitor to TV but as a technology that delivers some rival media (search, email etc) but also delivers more TV. Nor would we ever tell marketers not to consider all forms of media, however much (many?) bollocks get thrown at us, because the truth is integrated comms work best. TV ads PLUS social or search or email (or radio/posters etc) would be our message.  All forms of online video work well with linear TV, but the prize inventory online is of course Broadcaster VOD, which sells at a justifiable premium to both broadcast TV and other online video.

    There are a few solutions:
    a) don't let people 'numberwang' you. The general tendency of the tech companies seems to be to aggregate the biggest global numbers they can find to impress us, rather than keep them at a human level. It doesn't help me to know that a billion hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every day but it does to know that on average people spend just under 5 minutes a day watching YT. Would you rather know that 2.8 billion TV ads are seen at normal speed every day in the UK or that the average person sees 48?  The latter I suspect.

    b) reject substitution myths. By that I mean don't be persuaded that your social media/PR/event strategy can replace your TV or other paid media campaigns. In fact, your social media strategy will come alive when TV ads are running.  And watching VOD is not a substitute for normal telly.  It is watched out of the home instead of reading or updating your social media status, maybe.  Watched in the home it's helping people catch-up so they can get to watching the schedule.  Linear TV has been growing at the same time as VOD.

    Alan, I'm sorry that you think TV is too expensive. It fact per 'view' it has never, ever been as cheap in real terms in the UK. You can achieve some amazing business results with even £50k. I appreciate that would still be out of the reach of many SMEs, and search offers an excellent solution for them just as classified did/does. But at just a halfpenny a view, TV is probably much cheaper than many of the so-called 'free' media routes like a 'viral' campaign. We are running a free event on this very topic on Oct 17th called TV on a Shoestring. Book here or watch the live stream on the day

    Finally, as the oldest and fattest of you all, there may seem to be a correlation between that and championing the truth about TV, but I can assure you it's not causal!

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  • Interesting that the very next MW story I read was about ASOS growing by 40% with (as far as I'm aware) virtually no spend on TV advertising but a massive focus on content, social, digital and PR.

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  • Hi Mark,

    Do you have a link to the report "Why the internet won't kill TV" ?

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  • Totally agree that TV is not failing but in fact currently thriving with advertisements currently. Advertisements on the internet are both annoying and wasteful, whereas TV ads leave a lasting image and create that brand awareness that companies are looking for.

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  • TV is healthy? Not in America it seems.

    Reading Brian Stelter in The New York Times certainly indicates that numbers are falling and brands are seeking solace with Big Cable over Networks. Broadcast ratings in the key 18-49 demographic tumbled by 17 per cent during the winter months when compared with a year earlier, according to Goldman Sachs, which called the decline: "the sharpest pace on record." NBC and ABC are lucky to get five million to tune in to anything.

    "At ABC, the lowest-rated of the four broadcasters, first-quarter profit fell 40 percent compared with the same quarter last year, but the network still made $138 million," Stelter wrote. "NBC, on the other hand, lost $35 million in the quarter, because of lower advertising revenues. NBC's parent, Comcast, said the network would have fared better if its biggest hit, 'The Voice,' had been on in the quarter."

    And Fox itself has also been hit ratings for the flagship "American Idol" is also falling. Stelter notes:

    "Ad revenue slipped at Fox too, partly because 'Idol' has lost nearly a quarter of its viewers this season, on top of a 50 percent decline over the previous five years."

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  • Worth underlining the Ofcom observation that families are "gathering in the living room to watch TV, just as they were in the 1950's." So TV has become the new hearth of the home that draws the family together after their various digital journeys through the day. From a brand pov, this also means you get talked about which surely counts for more than a digital thumbs up.

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  • In response to Richard K quoting various stats from the US, advertisers don't much care whether people watch free-to-air TV (or broadcast networks) or pay TV (cable) as long as they can advertise in it and that overall it's stable/growing - which it is. It's a distinction we don't make in the UK and Thinkbox represents all types of TV on all platforms.

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  • agree with Tess's comments above. The stature and reach of TV remains unassailable, and the rapid rise of new viewing habits has only served to supplement the medium. The Ofcom report Mark refers to highlights how viewers are now 'media meshing' and interacting with TV content through connected devices. For the first time this places TV audiences within the reach of direct marketing campaigns. If you're in any doubt about how serious broadcasters are in the impact of VoD, second screening, online viewing, social interaction, etc in partnering with traditional airtime ads then watch interviews I conducted with Channel 4 and ITV on the topic:

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