Cutting the cables, not the lifelines

I had to travel for business during the Super Bowl. While I don’t follow American Football all that much, I have traditionally watched the Big Game for the commercials. But even that, in recent years, has become unnecessary, as the really significant advertisers release their long-form versions online, often weeks before the game. Once watching, though, I do get sucked into the competition of the game, regardless of the teams playing; that is, until the next yet-another-break-after-20-seconds-of-action loop becomes the visual equivalent of sisyphus.
As I stood at the airport during the game, I wasn’t necessarily bothered about it. I did find it interesting that screens at the myriad restaurants around the terminal betrayed the multinational and varied tastes of flyers: less than half showed the Super Bowl. The others either broadcast CNN or soccer (i.e. what most of the rest of the world thinks of as “football”), which questions the veracity of the claim that “billions” watch the Super Bowl – but that’s another topic.
What struck me, however, was the preponderance of handheld devices being used to stay up on the action. In the boarding area alone, at least six people were watching the game on their mobile phones or tablets. NBCSports decision to stream the game over the web and their mobile app enabled many fans to tune in without having to tether themselves to their televisions.
And this is part of an increasing trend we are all aware of: viewers of every age are turning to their smart devices to consume what was once the domain of traditional broadcast television. Netlix recent announcement of record new subscribers in Q1, 2018 just bolsters the trend towards “cutting the cable.” Now Disney is preparing to enter the streaming game, along with a host of other services, which will, once again, (to use that overused word) cause disruption in the business and drive yet another nail into broadcast television’s coffin.
This presents several challenges, as well as potential opportunities, to traditional cable service providers and to advertisers, especially since most of the streaming services such as Netflix, Prime video, and HBO, don’t run ads.

As marketing and advertising professionals, we need to ask ourselves, “are the days of commercials over?” Or will we just be entering another world of opportunities? A few years ago we attended the premier of the new Bond film in London. Two things struck me right away: one, the theatre was clean and did not smell of stale buttered popcorn, and two, there were very few ‘coming soon’ previews, but at least six or seven long-form commercials for various brands. Which made me think: “why not work with the major theatre chains to run your clients’ ads before a film?”
And in an age when almost every trailers is a 10 minute spoiler for the upcoming film and increasingly commercials are like movie trailers, it wouldn’t be such a big deal if we watched a commercial for Coke instead.

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