June 6, 2006
ABC Dealt Two Advertising Blows

According to Jon Lafayette of TelevisionWeek, CBS is taking over the lead in advertising deals with significant increases, moving past main competitor ABC, with CBS ranging a 2 percent to 4 percent price increase.

This comes on the heels of Lafayette's story yesterday detailing ABC's decision to back off of counting DVR viewers in overall numbers for advertisers and instead concentrate only on live ratings. The network originally claimed it would only do deals that counted viewing on digital video recorders, but advertisers had strong concerns that those recording on DVRs would be very unlikely to watch commercial breaks.

ABC's statement issued about rescinding the demand for inclusion of DVR numbers included the following comment: "While the majority of the advertising community has reached a consensus on the Nielsen DVR ratings issue, and has concluded that that commercials seen during a DVR-recorded programming have no value, the ABC Television Network continues to believe strongly in the worth of the 'Live Plus' viewer, and will continue its efforts to include this audience." Lafayette's story today indicated his belief that this drive for DVR inclusion is what caused ABC to drop from its perch, while every other network continued conducting business based only on live viewers.

What amazes me about the whole discussion is how vehemently everyone is holding to the traditional 30-second spot, when more and more people are moving to DVRs. It may not be that shocking to see the crowd around a "technology" school like MIT raving about DVRs, but more and more of them are cropping up around Kentucky, where I'm staying this summer.

I'll be interested in seeing how long people will hold to the non-DVR numbers. Hopefully, we won't get to the point where the nation's ad rate will be determined by a few households somewhere in the hills of North Dakota.

In the meantime, ABC's failed system doesn't seem to address the problem. Skeptics were right in that people are likely not watching commercials on their DVR. It's instead an indication that we need to have a major reconceptualization of how the industry obtains its profits, maybe even something along the lines of Erick Schonfeld's recommendations for Time-Warner.

As Schonfeld says, media companies are "groping for ways to fix their businesses before all content goes digital and their financial assumptions go out the window." Maybe Schonfeld's recommendations--such as an emphasis on content and fans instead of distribution and products--are a propos for the major networks as well.

Meanwhile, most of the experimentation continues to happen in the cable industry, such as WE's decision to let John Frieda's Luminous Color Glaze and the film The Devil Wears Prada to sponsor its hit show Bridezillas. Moving to these types of arrangements seem to cause fewer problems in the long-run than all the continued haggling to hang on to the vestiges of the 30-second spot.