The end of commercials as we know them? All to hit the 18 to 49 year old market (over 50 need not watch TV anymore)
Candidate advertising migrates away from TV Networks. While close to a billion dollars will be spent in 2012 on network and network affiliate advertising by candidates, an increasing larger portion of the dollar are going toward cable direct targeting by gender, age and interests. Then too dollars are being spent on Internet, e-mail, text messaging and other forms of mediated communication. X-Box is even in the swing with live coverage of the debates, allowing "users" to play their feelings at any given moment against others in an interactive graph included with the video feed. X-Box and other games also include ads for candidates, ranging from out and out advertising to their campaign or images on billboards, buses, shop window and other elements of the game program being used.
No more spoon feeding. Where once a small number of mass media controlled what we watch and hear, now a wide range of media (all owned by a small number of media corporations) fights for your attention, often conflicting in time, place and viewpoint.
It is now easier than ever to think for yourself, which is to say to seek out only what you agree with, what you enjoy and to ignore other viewpoints, thing you might have otherwise considered or experimented with, experiences you may have tried and enjoyed.
This divergence means that advertisers, including politicians, can target their message to those who are already inclined to agree with them, while passing on a differing message to those who are on the fence or those who may be opposed but can be won over.
You can target in a way that was not possible with three or four networks and only a handful or radio formats or information options.
The reason for the shift is to adapt to the reality that viewers are increasingly segmenting themselves using cable and new media, shifting from large block network viewing. Very few programs remain where everyone stands around the office cooler talking about it the next morning.
While teenage television viewing is up, much of it is on cable networks. Young adults are increasingly busy away from their televisions, are more likely to use their time to play video games or use the computer in social networking and far more likely to time shift. They also are less interested in news, serious social issues and long form discussions as part of their "entertainment" time, segmenting what were once joined creative elements in television programming.
The material below is from the Los Angeles Times last March. It remains true, although the decisions represented are now dates as we enter the fall television season in earnest.
"The networks are falling down in the area where they need to be strong: content, content, content."
Earlier this week, long-languishing NBC ordered a fall sitcom with an apt title: "Save Me."
As they get ready to roll out their fall lineups next week in New York, rival networks know the feeling. TV executives are scrambling to counter steep drop-offs among young-adult viewers and some record-low series ratings this spring.
Fox's once-dominant singing show"American Idol" has seen ratings tumble by nearly 30% to its lowest totals since summer 2002, according to Nielsen. Of the Top 10 programs this season among total viewers, not a single freshman series makes the cut. And for viewers ages 18 to 49 — the category most advertisers care about — the only first-season shows to attain genuine hit status areCBS' raunchy sitcom"2 Broke Girls" and Fox's over-the-top singing contest"The X Factor" — both barely scraping under the wire at Nos. 9 and 10 respectively.
Despite the troubling signs, the big networks are still projected to fetch a record $9.5 billion with advance ad sales this summer, when up to 85% of the commercials are sold, according to a Barclays estimate. Even though network viewing has been on the wane for years, broadcast TV is still the last bastion of the mass audience, a forum around which millions of Americans can be reached by advertisers.
But experts believe the networks are jeopardizing their futures by failing to deliver programs that appeal to fickle young viewers distracted by tablets, smartphones, social media and other demands on their attention.
"In the 18 to 49 category, there are more and more choices," said Bill Carroll, vice president at Katz Television Group in New York, which helps advise local TV stations. "Younger viewers are watching programs on the Internet or watching on cable."
As Jeffrey McCall, a communications professor at DePauw University, concluded: "Regular broadcast television is just not that essential in the lives of many young adults."
It's hardly all gloom for the old TV networks, of course. Nielsen has for the last few years included time-shifted viewing on DVRs in the ultimate ratings totals and the audience measure giant is beginning to lump in online and video-on-demand services as well. That translates into larger audiences — and larger ad sales — than one might think after a quick glance at the early ratings figures.
"You can't read the next day's [ratings] numbers and take a real meaningful read from them anymore," CBS scheduling chief Kelly Kahl said in a phone interview. Executives now often wait for data that show how many people watched a program on a DVR up to seven days after the original broadcast.
CBS, No. 1 among all viewers thanks to durable scripted hits such as "NCIS"and "The Big Bang Theory,"predicted earlier this month that it will break financial records in 2012, thanks partly to growing revenue from online distribution of its shows on platforms such as Amazon.comand Netflix. That's true even though CBS has long had the oldest-skewing audience of any broadcaster.
In addition to "2 Broke Girls," the first-year drama "Person of Interest" has delivered encouraging ratings, and Ashton Kutcher successfully replaced Charlie Sheen on"Two and a Half Men," one of the network's biggest hits.
"We feel very good about our future, both creatively and financially," CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves told Wall Street analysts in a conference call.
Indeed, among the five major broadcast networks, CBS actually gained 3% more viewers in 18 to 49 compared with last season. NBC also posted a gain, but without the Super Bowl it would be flat. Meanwhile, the others were all either even or down, with Fox falling off by 9%, and the CW dropping 11%. And since January, many of the ratings results have been even worse.
Broadcasters have likewise been relieved to see a slowdown in the once-torrid growth pace for rival cable networks, which are free of many of the content and language restrictions under which the big networks labor. And the broadcast channels are plumping their balance sheets by squeezing in more commercials — even though that's a potential annoyance that may be driving some viewers to DVRs or elsewhere.
ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox averaged 11 minutes of ad time per evening hour this season (not including promotions and station IDs), translating into two more 30-second spots each hour than a decade ago, according to ad firm Horizon Media in New York.
But the flight of young viewers has become an object for concern for many TV executives. Nowhere is that more true than at NBC. The network — which during the 1990s towered as a prime-time colossus armed with "Must-See TV" smashes such as "Friends" and "Seinfeld"that enjoyed enormous appeal with affluent young urbanites — has slumped to last place in recent seasons and is heavily dependent on costly NFL games for ratings. Without football this season, NBC's prime-time lineup would have sunk beneath a 2.0 rating among adults ages 18 to 49, which roughly translates into 2.5 million viewers — a once-unthinkable signpost of drought.
Comcast, the cable behemoth that bought the network from GE last year, has undertaken a rebuilding campaign, but the results have been slow in coming. The season premiere of NBC's singing show"The Voice"drew a huge audience of 37 million following the Super Bowl this year. But ratings subsequently drooped and this week's finale logged 11.9 million, only a modest gain over last summer's first-season farewell.
With last fall's lineup tanking (the heavily promoted dramas"Prime Suspect"and"The Playboy Club"were swiftly canceled), NBC got an early start this week on the sweepstakes for September by ordering six comedies plus several new dramas, including "Revolution," a new sci-fi drama from writer-producerJ.J. Abrams, and a drama about Chicago firefighters. The network will need a large arsenal, because it remains weak on Wednesday and Thursday nights — the latter a high-stakes arena where ad spending is particularly high. NBC executives declined requests for comment.
"NBC is still in a tailspin from the old GE years," said Doug Spero, a former news director for NBC and CBS stations who now teaches communications at Meredith College in North Carolina. "The prime-time stuff may take years to develop."
ABC is in better shape, thanks to"Dancing With the Stars"and its sitcom smash"Modern Family."The fantasy"Once Upon a Time,"wrapping up its first season, has also shown promise. But theWalt Disney Co.-owned network has shown zero overall improvement among young adults this season, with "Dancing" much more popular among middle-aged and elderly viewers than the young, and its once-hot medical drama"Grey's Anatomy"continuing to age.
Fox still leads in that all-important 18 to 49 category but has nevertheless slogged through a rocky season. In addition to "Idol's" ratings swoon, "The X Factor" was widely considered a disappointment, even though it helped prop up the network's fall ratings — a longtime trouble spot. Part of the problem is that Simon Cowell, "Factor's" lead judge and executive producer, vowed beforehand to beat "Idol" but fell far short of the mark.
Fox just renewed the Kiefer Sutherland drama "Touch" but has already canceled disappointments such as Abrams' time-travel drama "Alcatraz" and the detective show "The Finder." Coming next season is a passel of new scripted series, including a crime drama starring Kevin Bacon. But Fox's fortunes are likely to remain tied to "Idol" and "X Factor" for a long time — and with "The Voice" adding to a crowded singing format, it may be tough for any single show to stand out.
The broadcasters have spent much of the last 25 years trying to woo young adults, and it's anyone's guess whether the recent declines in their network viewing are permanent. But Spero often asks his students what they watch and why, and says he sees ominous signs.
"Many of them don't like to watch anything by appointment anymore," he said. "They only plug into the networks during various dead periods of their day. They need something special and unusual to catch their attention.
"The networks," he added, "are falling down in the area where they need to be strong: content, content, content."