Is TV Going the Way of the Dinosaur?

TVVideo (or, if you like the phrase, “TV”) allows us to sit back and listen to tall tales in a story form that goes back thousands of years. In a way, our human consumption of media hasn’t really changed since we gathered around fires with our cave-people ancestors — we’ve just exchanged the clubs and big rocks for Wii remotes.

Everyone who’s being honest in media and advertising these days will openly acknowledge that broadcast television and cable audiences are shrinking and advertisers are paying more per set of eyeballs than they have before. There’s the heavy use of DVRs, the use of OTT content and devices threatening traditional viewing, and the cord-cutters who don’t even own televisions. As the definition of TV changes to incorporate LCD panels, computer screens, tablets and windows with shifting images, and as our viewing evolves from social to personal to intimate space, in a few years our idea of gathering around one screen in a TV room with family might seem as antiquated as sitting around a cave fire sharing viewing space with a T-Rex.

This transition, like pretty much anything in this age of technology, will happen quickly — just look at the lightening-fast changes in the newspaper or the telephone industry. It’s too easy to pick on newspapers (everybody’s doing it), but think about the phone. One in three houses now has no telephone, and in the ones that still have them they’re usually used as a dummy number to screen telemarketers or they’re only included to secure a cheap wireless bundle. Alexander Graham Bell got bitch-slapped by smartphones — and so will television.

We already know about the cord-cutters — people abandoning their TV in favor of OTT like Hulu, Netflix and YouTube. But we’re now realizing there’s a whole new group of cord-nevers — young people and students who’ve never paid for TV and don’t see a reason to start now. As TechCrunch writes, “We fear that some of these consumers will find pay TV far less relevant to their lives than do today’s adults.”

So why would an advertiser still pay for TV advertising? Scale, period. Right now, TV still has it, but even that reach is being buoyed by social media shares. Look at the Super Bowl for clues on how TV outreach is changing: Essurance claims to have saved a million and a half dollars by going on directly after the Super Bowl, and their commercial pushed social shares harder than it pushed their actual product by pimping out a cash giveaway driven by their hashtag.

We’re going to have to start creating campaigns that occur across multiple screens and thinking about strategies that don’t involve TV — for some creative solutions to that problem, check out Digiday’s roundup of alternatives to Super Bowl advertising. If you’re not sketching out multi-screen content, I assure you that your client is talking to someone who is. Our challenge is to convince clients that consumer desire is not a binary switch, but more of a volume dial — it requires multiple touch-points. Television advertising isn’t going away, in the same way storytelling and sitting around the fire never really disappeared — but it is changing drastically, and anyone who doesn’t find a way to evolve with it is about to go extinct.