Magazine article Communication World

Television-Minus Advertising: In the Future, You'll Decide When You Watch Commercials, If You Watch Them at All

Magazine article Communication World

Television-Minus Advertising: In the Future, You'll Decide When You Watch Commercials, If You Watch Them at All

Article excerpt

Sometime at the beginning of the year 2030, your television set could schedule a meeting with you. It would be one of the mandatory monthly "conversations" it has with you in order to deliver uninterrupted service. It would go something like this: You switch on your TV and a "program" would pop up, presenting you with some simple choices. Based on your selections, your TV would offer to show you commercials for products and services; you and your family get to choose which ones you will see. You would click on any number of boxes, depending on your tolerance for advertising for the upcoming month. You could also choose not to watch any commercials and pay the actual price of the TV content, just like you do at web sites such as iTunes. Your monthly bill would be configured according to your "commercial exposure."

This is a scenario that marketers actually considered about five years ago as part of a study sponsored by the European Broadcasters Union. Marketers and media owners from Nokia, British Telecom, Y&R Interactive and McCann Erickson's media unit looked at a possible economic model for interactive television. The study took a long view of advertising in a world where the customer's individual preferences play a big part in how media is consumed. Or, to put it more bluntly, it envisioned how television would survive without advertising.

Attila Kelemen, a longtime brand strategist who has worked at Landor and iCrossing, says this type of scenario planning reminds marketers that they must plan for a future in which "customers are truly liberated," alluding to the way consumer-generated media is storming the gates of traditional media. The economic forecast for businesses in this media environment would be rather bleak, he says. Once customers begin to filter out all marketing messages, the price of content would rise steeply. "Who's going to fund the production of the next round of Friends?" he asks. Or, for that matter, American Idol or BBC World?

Pay as you go

The advertising tolerance model could be quite fascinating. Let's say you are in the market for a new car this month, as well as a new washing machine and a vacation. You would check the boxes that your TV set presents and adjust the advertising exposure level to what you are willing to endure for the next 30 days. So instead of paying US$150 for 10 channels, you would offset the cost with your attention and bring it down to US$40. During that month when you are away on vacation, your television set would go dark, because you would have told it in advance you were going to deny it any attention.

If this is where we are headed, the entire media world, not just television, is in for a big shakeup. Just six years from now, traditional advertising will be one-third as effective as it was in 1990, according to a recent report from the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. The cracks have already begun to appear as advertising migrates toward the Web in unique ways. Take the case of YouTube.com, which has become a de facto mass medium of the online world. I use the term "mass medium" somewhat loosely, as YouTube is still an unfocused medium, drawing millions of viewers, apart from the tens of millions of content providers that happen to be the audience too. Its lure is the free availability and enormous breadth of "programming" that bypasses the traditional gatekeepers of video content. …

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