Record Television Viewership Numbers and the Struggle Between Active and Passive

It happened again…

Another Nielsen Report came out Tuesday claiming that Americans watch more TV today than ever before: a staggering average of four hours and forty-nine minutes a day.  If that number doesn’t smack you upside your metaphoric head, it should at least mildly unsettle you.  If nothing else, it can’t be very good for the GDP.  Or our national struggle with obesity.

1 of 12,305 Creative Commons "TV Watching" Images on Flickr

1 of 12,305 Creative Commons "TV Watching" Images on Flickr

Advertisers won’t be thrilled by this revelation either.  Over the last four years, major marketers have migrated away from television and into new media for a wide variety of reasons (cost) that help them get around the engagement issue (and cost) because really, how can anyone pay attention to TV for that length of time (and how about those costs?).

The Nielsen numbers raise a few unsettled industry issues: the confusion about our splintered media environment, the difficulty in assessing ROI across various platforms, and even the kneejerk CMO dismissal of television as a dated medium.  The fact is television is not dated so much as confusing.  Prime-time viewing remains basically flat, but it’s still at it’s highest levels since the pre-net days of 1991.  Unfortunately for that once-dominant medium, the programming options are endless and the cost of production and placement dwarf the cost of digital options.

And what about engagement?  How receptive to your thirty-second spot (or god forbid, fifteen second blipvert) is the mind of someone vegging out in front of the tube for nearly five hours a day?  Besides, with that TV-watching schedule, when would they ever have time for shopping?

As opposed to the passive TV audience, the online audience actively seeks information.  Digital engagement levels are exponentially higher than television.  But then again, with all the distractions available across hundreds of billions of web pages, why should they engage with you and your message?

In the end, whether you seek passive or active audiences, the only true engagement technique at any marketer’s disposal is a powerful idea.  You can study those, analyze those, and even run the numbers on them–but so far, you can’t write a program to generate them.

Ideas can come from anywhere, and that’s a very good thing.  Because in an increasingly confusing world battered by cost and fragmentation, we will need more and better ones.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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