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The Whole World Is Watching

Published On: Aug 02 2012 12:15:45 PM CDT

As everyone knows, television is dead. We know this because, well, because everybody knows it. Like Jerry Mathers, from Leave It to Beaver, died in Vietnam. Everybody knows that. Except he didn't.

Nobody sits and watches a television program anymore. Everybody is downloading programs off the Internet. And that's a small percentage of time compared with all the social networking everybody's doing. And if anybody is watching television in the traditional way, nobody is spending any serious amount of time doing it. Except they are.

Pardon me if I mention a few inconvenient facts that have surfaced in recent weeks. First, Nielsen reported TV viewing is at its highest point in history. That means in the entire 59 years since the company began compiling time-spent statistics, the numbers have never been bigger. To be more specific, the latest data shows the average American household, per day, spends eight hours and 21 minutes in front of the television. Men spend four hours and 49 minutes watching, and women spend five hours and 25 minutes.

And teens, that demo that we "lost" to Facebook, YouTube and the iPod? They spend an average of three hours and 27 minutes per day watching television, and that's also an all-time high.

Then there's the study conducted by Ball State's Center for Media Design on behalf of the Council for Research Excellence that was released in March. It's been called the "largest observational look at media usage ever conducted."

Some key findings: 99 percent of viewing in the past year was done on a "traditional" television set; less than 5 percent of TV viewing was DVR playback; and YouTube, Hulu and all other Web/cell phone media accounted for less than 1 percent of viewing.

While the study indicates that computer usage has supplanted radio as the second most common media activity, TV remains the dominant medium for media consumption and advertising. The Ball State findings affirm the Nielsen data: The average American adult is exposed to five hours and nine minutes of live TV each day, almost 15 minutes of TV via a DVR device and 2.4 minutes of video on the computer.

And finally, there's the study that brings it all home: the Yankelovich report on the effects of advertising on consumers. The "purchase funnel" has been widely accepted as an important way of looking at how consumers move toward a purchase decision, but up to now very little research existed to determine the specific impacts of advertising. This study, commissioned by the Television Bureau of Advertising, broke new ground when it was unveiled at the Paley Center for Media last month.

Yankelovich conducted a survey among U.S. adults between Jan. 29 and Feb. 10, 2009 to determine the role that TV plays as part of a multiplatform environment for advertising. Please note those dates: They mean that the survey represents a snapshot of consumer attitudes in the teeth of the recession.

For all business categories, according to Yankelovich, advertising impacts consumers at an 80 percent level when it comes to awareness and declines to 53 percent when it comes to making purchases or activation. Overweighting toward lower funnel activity can therefore be risky. The study shows television's share-of media impact on a percentage basis remains strong and steady through all marketing phases-awareness, interest, consider purchase, want to purchase, visit store/Web site and make purchase-averaging 52 percent of overall media impact.

After TV, the Internet has the second strongest impact, contributing 14 percent to awareness, 13 percent to consideration, 13 percent to preference and 12 percent to actual purchase levels. The Internet can serve as an important complement to television in purchase-funnel impact. But rarely, even at the transactional phase, does the Internet replace TV as the primary consumer action driver.

The Yankelovich study drills down into 15 key consumer categories, revealing major differences as to where in the consumer purchase funnel that media is most important and effective. By and large, higher ticket, longer consideration categories (like auto and furniture stores) can be most impacted by media in the mid to-upper funnel. Mid-consideration categories (like travel and home improvement stores) tend to be very media sensitive in the mid-to-lower funnel. And short consideration categories (like grocery stores and movies) can be impacted from the top all the way to the bottom, or transactional phase, of the funnel.

A key Yankelovich lesson: Conventional wisdom about different media's role in influencing consumers is wrong. Only by drilling down within specific categories can the optimal use of media in general and media channels in particular be fully realized. This is important, actionable knowledge for marketers to possess. And it will be crucial information to possess as media become more and more of a marketing tool in today's brave new world.

These are difficult times for the advertising industry. But its wise men and women understand that, while there is a temptation to try something new, sticking with what works ultimately will win the day. The enduring truth is that television retains its connection with the consumer, now more than ever.

Nobody watches television anymore, except for everybody.