Linear or digital... or both?

Let's discuss where an advertiser should allocate its valuable ad dollars.

The traditional linear model versus the rising digital presence is the ongoing debate as advertisers allocate their budgets for the upcoming 2019-20 television season. If you happened to attend any of the recent linear upfront presentations, you got the spiel on the merits of watching TV the old-fashioned way. After all, you cannot discount a five-broadcast platform where just over 30-million viewers this season, on average, is still tuning in. And that does not include cable.

Of course, if you were at any of the NewFront presentations (the name designed for the digital platforms), these streamers acted like linear barely even existed.

As always, let me chime in with my diehard support of the linear platform. It is not going away now or anytime soon. But let me emphasize the growing value of the digital model, where the "when you want, where you want" programming philosophy prevails. And this observation comes from a man who, at present, has suddenly discovered Netflix blockbuster, "Stranger Things." And, by blockbuster, I do not mean the sci-fi drama is attracting a mountain of viewers and all the right demo groups. No one knows for sure who exactly is consuming content digitally, and that is a concern for any advertiser looking to tout its brand outside of the linear platform.

Linear is down in the traditional Nielsen ratings, digital is pure speculation, and the best buy for any advertiser is a combination of the two. As simple as that sounds, it could not be more complicated for an advertiser.

In this era of "Peak TV," where almost 500 scripted series this season alone across all platforms are vying for eyeballs (versus 389 just five years earlier), the biggest challenge for an advertiser is understanding what really are the right programs to choose.

Naturally, if your product is catered to anyone over age 50, for example, your first stop should be CBS, which is the always the oldest skewing of the five broadcast platforms. If it is the millennial crowd you seek (and, let’s face it, youth always has the greatest appeal), the assumption is that digital is your first pick. Of course, if you have something of interest for the superhero fans, The CW should be on your bucket list or any outlet that includes this type of programming. For the latter, I would also recommend allocating part of your budget to a live event like Comic Con.

One announcement, in particular, that stood out for me during these upfront presentations (this one at NBCUniversal) was the upcoming Bravo-Con event, which will feature host Andy Cohen and a bevy of talent from the female-themed Bravo programming (led, of course, by those so-called real housewives). For an advertiser, they are so many venues to now choose from, and I can totally see why sponsoring a live event of valuable. Just go to any Comic Con and you will see why.

Upfront Dollars

Last year, total prime-time upfront TV advertising revenue concluded at a reported 5.2 percent increase for the 2018-2019 TV season -- similar to a rise the year before -- to just over $20.7 billion (according to Media Dynamics, a media consulting/publishing company). The breakdown was 9.10 billion for broadcast (+4.1 percent from 2016-17) and 10.62 billion for cable (+4.1 percent).

At present, The CW, which has always combined its linear TV network and multi-digital platforms, is the first broadcast network to close its upfront advertising dealing for the 2019-2020 TV season. It came in approximately 15 percent higher in advertising upfront dollar volume versus the 2017-2018 TV season. In dollars, that is estimated to be $560 million to $630 million. The double-digit increase comes primarily from the network adding two-hours on Sunday as a sixth night of programming.

CBS, meanwhile, recorded volume gains of more than 5 percent in primetime despite lower ratings and more digital alternatives.

While there are no other definitive dollars reported by the other networks at press time, the educated assumption is more cross-platform buys (network plus cable), increased digital activity, and TV upfront revenues that are forecast to climb 2.5 percent (with digital video upfront deals growing by 20 percent).

With an estimated 125 million subscribers reported in first quarter 2018 in digital (versus just 26.48 million subscribers six years earlier), its value continues to rise.

That said, I have to single CBS and CBS All Access out for something recently announced that should signal the direction all platforms should ne heading to in this multi-platform universe. When CBS was looking for subscribers for its then new digital streaming service CBS All Access, its first original series was "The Good Wife" spin-off "The Good Fight" in 2017. "The Good Wife," after all, was a seven-season success for CBS, and the network introduced "The Good Fight" with its first episode on CBS before it moved to CBS All Access. Now, two years later, CBS will air repeats of season one of the critically acclaimed drama this summer.

For CBS All Access, a drama in the caliber of "The Good Fight" demonstrates how serious CBS is about providing quality programming digitally. For CBS, "The Good Fight" is a valid option in the summer (or anytime during the year). And for any advertiser looking for an older skewing, presumably higher educated and more upscale audience, both platforms – CBS and CBS All Access – should be considered.

In this complicated world of finding the right eyeballs with so many platforms, and so many series competing, these aforementioned cross-platform buys and more digital activity remain is the valid solution. But that is easier said than done, though, unfortunately.




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