Tuesday, October 09, 2007

To Circumvent or Cultivate Viewer-Control. Part II

It seems as if the networks and cable operators are at it again, doesn't it?

According to the article that ran yesterday, to entice the networks to put their best programming on VOD, Cox and Time Warner are claiming that disabling the fast-forward button during commercials is the answer.

By doing so, they are saying it's better to circumvent rather than cultivate viewer- control. This was the wrong answer two years ago when I first wrote about this subject and it's the wrong answer still today.

The arguments for continuing to circumvent control are curious. One EVP from NBC Universal Networks said, "We need to engage our viewers and provide advertisers with full value for the ads they place."

I couldn't agree more. But circumventing viewer-control is not the way to do it.

Perhaps what he really meant to say was "entrap" not "engage." Engagement is something that the viewer provides, not the programmer or the operator. By circumventing viewer-control, we have as much knowledge as to whether viewers were engaged or not as we do with broadcast TV.

None.

If you think about it, the logic is really quite simple. If a viewer is engaged in a commercial, they won't fast-forward, will they? It's only when they're not engaged that they fast-forward to try and avoid it.

The problem isn't really viewer-control at all. The problem is that some still believe that impressions have value. By circumventing viewer-control, what we are basically circumventing is the possibility of a new business model coming into play.

One would think that advertisers would be leading the outcry against this latest logic put forward by the networks and cable operators.

Consider: By giving the viewer the control to fast-forward through their commercial, the advertiser gains knowledge as to how well their commercial did, or did not, engage with viewers.

As we all know, knowledge is power.

Once an advertiser knows how engaging their commercial is, measured by viewer time spent with the commercial, they can then hold their ad agency accountable.

By giving the viewer control, we bring accountability to the process.

Circumventing control, circumvents accountability.

As for the creative agencies, why would they not want viewers to be in control of their commercials? Most agencies today are paid on an hourly-fee basis. If they do a great job, craft a wonderful commercial, they are, in fact, leaving money on the table.

The hourly-fee system basically treats the craft of creating commercials as a commodity.

What agencies are held accountable for today is sales, which they truly have little control over.

Granted, when there was only one agency of record, that agency could be held accountable for how well a product moved off the shelves.

But today, instead of an agency of record, most advertisers have a record number of agencies. If all of these agencies are accountable for sales, it means no one agency actually is.

What a good creative agency should want to be held accountable for is what they do have control over—the quality of their creative product. If this was the case, then the more engaging their work, the more they would make.

Giving the viewer control offers advertisers a way to gain accountability over their agencies, while a the same time, it allows agencies to be held accountable for something that they actually have control over.

To put it in terms more Zen-like then most will feel comfortable with, the only way to regain control is to give the viewer complete control.

Or, in other words, we need to learn to let go.

Hard, I know.

The first rule of wing-walking is to never let go of what you have until you have hold of something else. Our industry is currently standing on the wing of the plane, afraid to let go.

And the plane is losing altitude.

How far do we have to fall before we jump?

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