In the Golden Age of Television, life was easy for advertisers. The Big Three broadcast networks dominated the landscape, so it was simple to find highly rated programming that could deliver millions of viewers. But over the past 30 years, there’s been a ten-fold increase in the number of TV channels available—and a hundred-fold increase in the number of programs. (Source: Simulmedia 2014)

BT-Braingym-POV-TVReachCrisis-Chart1So finding shows where you can reach huge crowds all at once is no longer an easy task. In fact, last year, 65% of TV viewing happened around programs that had a rating of less than 0.5. (Source: Nielsen 2014, live +3 ratings) Now consider that, historically, many TV advertisers wouldn’t even purchase spots in programs that scored below a 1.0 rating.

With that much change, advertising schedules have had to evolve, too. And many advertisers have shifted their media mix and tried to adapt to new platforms (think digital video). Just the same, there’s an approaching crisis in traditional television advertising today—and it calls for some new thinking. And new tactics.

The more viewership fragments, the harder it is for advertisers to achieve their desired reach

Times have changed since 1991, when an advertiser had to run a spot about 58 times to reach 100 gross ratings points. In 2001, it took about 101 spots to reach 100 GRPs. And in 2014, that number soared to 176 spots, just to reach 100 GRPs. (Source: Simulmedia 2014)


The difficult news for advertisers:

Plus, higher schedule frequency means advertisers’ TV spots are seen more times by the same viewers, which creates a higher risk that their message will wear out. You can only watch a TV spot so many times before you just don’t see it or hear it anymore. It becomes wallpaper. Sometimes, annoying wallpaper. To counteract wear-out, advertisers sometimes produce a greater variety of spots—but that adds to their production costs.

And the happy news – here are three ways to combat the problem:
1. Think “video” instead of “TV”

The power of video is in its motion, energy, audio, and concept. It works in places other than traditional TV programs. You can place a video-based advertising message in front of consumers who are watching programs on many different platforms—from laptops to tablets to smartphones. Think about video holistically, from traditional TV to digital streaming like YouTube and Hulu. Approaching your media strategy from a bigger picture can increase your reach—and make the TV reach problem a non-issue.

Digital is still new territory. And one of the biggest challenges is there’s no common denominator for measuring viewership across traditional TV and new platforms. How do you integrate TV’s GRP ratings system and the raw measurement of digital impressions so you can calculate your total reach? Not an easy task, but it’s getting better. For instance, Nielsen’s OCR platform lets you buy digital video using GRPs.

2. Extend your reach online

There’s immense targeting power in digital media. You can build your overall reach by using online advertising to target people who aren’t exposed to your television schedule.  For instance, say you’re running TV spots during NFL football, and you know there are some people in your target audience who won’t be watching the game. You could serve them online banner ads. There are lots of ad networks and platforms that help you with this approach—from Specific Media to Collective Media to Xaxis.

Just one caveat: It involves some educated guesswork. At the moment, there’s no way to capture someone’s actual TV viewing and then serve them online ads to make up for shows they haven’t watched. This approach relies on modeling, which combines TV viewing data and online behavior to make a reasonable projection. So it’s not an exact science.

3. Purchase a broader array of TV programs

Makes sense, right? There are just as many people watching TV as ever, but they’re spread out over more networks and programs. So, one way to maintain your reach is to run your ads across a wider variety of channels and shows.

The drawback: it could cost you more. In the past, advertisers never spread themselves out across so many programs. They concentrated on the ones that were both highly rated and budget-friendly. Today, if you try to build reach by advertising in more different shows, you’ll probably have to buy programs that aren’t as cost efficient as you’d like.

The bottom line

The days of simple TV buying are long gone, and the challenge is only going to grow. But there are steps you can take to make sure your TV advertising remains as effective and efficient as possible. One of the best options? Our favorite is No. 1 from our list of suggestions. Approach TV from a more holistic perspective. Whether it’s old-school primetime broadcasts or new digital platforms, people have always been captivated viewers. Finding a modern mix of outlets where your video message can live is still one of the most powerful ways to hold your audience’s attention—and leave a lasting impression for your brand.

Kelly Kilpatrick
Kelly Kilpatrick

Associate Media Director
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