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TV Execs: Online Vid Numbers Insignificant

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This morning I attended a panel hosted by AdAge called The Upfront Conversation.

The event was moderated by Jonah Bloom. It included a mix of execs from the TV networks, large advertisers and advertising agencies.

There was a lot of discussion about the head and tail of the video media that is bought and sold. I asked the panel where digital fits into this mix. For example, how do emerging new channels like ABC’s effort to put shows online fit into the upfront (which is when most TV time is sold)? How are they sold? Are they the head or the tail?

Surprisingly, Mike Shaw, President of Sales and Marketing for ABC, went straight for the numbers of people watching video online. He said they were too small in relation to the mother ship. He dismissed the significance of these new platforms because of the numbers. This is despite ABC’s lead in testing new channels. He said that streaming video and other online viewing platforms “are not scalable.” This confirms what Kenneth Musante wrote about.

It struck me during the panel discussion that the TV networks – despite their recent initiatives – still do not live in a long tail world. They’re largely focused on reaching mass audiences. Shaw’s comments indicates that the nets are not seeing an opportunity to augment their huge reach by using the Web to help marketers build a deeper level of engagement with select slices of micro audiences who tell the larger group what to watch.

The marketers, meanwhile, are far along in their “getting it.” For example, Andy Jung, Senior Director of Advertising and Marketing for Kelloggs, and Tony Pace, SVP and CMO for Subway, both said that while the numbers of digital viewers are small compared with TV, they are hugely important and influential. Jung in fact said it’s time to “throw the fifty yard pass” and get involved.

Later on a passionate discussion erupted on whether audience scalability matters anymore. I feel it does. The discussion should not revolve around mass vs. micro audiences. Marketers and media need to focus on both. TV reaches huge numbers of people, but offers a very low level of engagement. The Web, meanwhile, and increasingly content co-created by consumers delivers a high level of engagement. And that’s all that marketers are talking about right now.

It was clear from today’s discussion that marketers get that they need to focus on both mass and micro and figure out where the magical nexus lies. The TV nets, on the other hand, don’t. And that’s scary.

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Steve Rubel is a PR strategist with nearly 16 years of public relations, marketing, journalism and communications experience. He currently serves as a Senior Vice President with Edelman, the largest independent global PR firm.

He authors the Micro Persuasion weblog, which tracks how blogs and participatory journalism are changing the public relations practice.

TV Execs: Online Vid Numbers Insignificant
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