Tuesday, February 26, 2008

ABC Chooses Imprisonment Over Involvement

It's surprising that a company that goes by the letters ABC seems to have forgotten the A-B-C’s of why people like video on demand.

The key word in video on demand is “demand.” And the reason why viewers like VOD is because they get to be the ones demanding, versus taking demands from the networks.

ABC apparently thinks otherwise.

“Sure," ABC says, “we’ll give viewers the shows they want when they want them, but, um, you see, there is a catch. We’re going to disable the fast-forward button.”

The only “catch” to success on digital platforms is that there are no catches. The fact is that digital platforms are run by the users, not the advertisers or networks.

In other words, the networks now work for us.

Oh, sure, we used to work for you, back when broadcast ruled. We’d do what you told us to do. “Show up at 8:00,” you’d demand, “if you want to see this show.” And we would, staying for a half hour, sometimes more. No, it wasn’t always convenient for us, but if you said 8:00, we’d bust our humps to be there.

After all, you were the boss.

But then, you see, this kinder, gentler boss came along and said, “Why don’t you, the viewer, be in charge? Why don’t you call the shots and we’ll do our best to accommodate you.” So we did. And you know what?

There’s no putting the toothpaste back in the tube.

I know, ABC has research that justifies what they're doing. What was it, 93% of the people who had their fast-forwarding capabilities removed when watching ABC on demand found having to watch ads an acceptable exchange for getting to see the programs free?

An impressive number, granted.

But the question to ask is, what was their option? Paying for programs? If so, I’m actually surprised the number wasn't 100%.

Did ABC ask viewers if they would like to get their programs for free and have some commercials they could click into and watch if they so desired? In other words, so the viewers, rather than ABC, could determine whether the product or category being advertised had any relevance to them.

I would guess not.

Interestingly enough, there was a test done with an MSO in the Midwest recently, the results of which showed that when viewers were confronted with the option of clicking into commercials of interest, 18% did so. 18% actually said, “H’mmm,” and initiated the interaction with the commercial. Why? Primarily because 18% found it to be a product or category that held some interest for them.

But a secondary reason was simply the fact that they were in control. Which meant that they could stop watching the commercial when they wanted to. How long was that, by the way? Average view duration: 75% of the spot.

The fact is, people don’t mind investing time, yes, even in a commercial, if they can control the time invested. This very same control that ABC has now decided to eliminate.

If ABC believes so little in the ability of advertising to interest and involve viewers, then why do they charge advertisers so much to run their ads?

Of course, I understand the conundrum they find themselves in. And I agree that advertising does save viewers from paying for the programs. But why keep insisting that the advertising be presented solely on the network's terms – in ABC's case, 5 to 10 thirty-second ads every hour? Making the total cost to the consumer some 2.5 to 5 minutes of their time. In a sense, imprisoning viewers to watch advertising that they may or may not have any interest in.

(By the way, I do not use the word “imprisoning” lightly here. One cannot readily surf on a VOD system. So even if a viewer wants to surf away to watch something else during the 30-second intrusions, they really can’t.)

I wonder if ABC has considered any alternatives other then making viewers pay, or forcing them to watch? For example, have they considered giving control back to the viewer and have advertisers place a commercial on the program’s synopsis screen, to be opted into by those viewers who are interested?

In other words, leaving it up to the viewer, letting them watch as little or as much of the commercial as they like.

Or, skip it all together.

Since these commercials would be non-intrusive, they could be of any length. In fact, one advertiser could take all five of the minutes that ABC is selling, if their brand story was interesting and the creative good.

ABC could sell this format on a cost-per-click basis, similar to what VideoEgg introduced last week in New York.

Or, even better, on a cost-per-second basis. Let’s see, five minutes at $100 per second comes out to $30,000. Which is the same price ABC would get if they charged the advertiser a $30 CPM and a million viewers came to watch the program.

Perhaps ABC can charge $1,000 per second due to lack of clutter. If so, they'd rake in $300,000 while still putting control back into the hands of those who deserve it.

Of course, it seems preposterous to think that an advertiser would ever pay $1,000 a second. But the fact is, they already are. The average thirty-second TV commercial, according to the four A’s, costs around $380,000, to produce and edit.

In other words, $12,666 per second.

If advertisers pay that much to create commercials, then perhaps they'd be open to paying less than a tenth of that cost to run them.

Just a thought.

And we hope that ABC thinks again before dismantling the fast-forward button on VOD platforms.

Because as much as they might want to believe otherwise, control is no longer in their hands.

The name of the game on digital platforms is Servant-Leader Media. In other words, networks to lead by serving the needs of those they lead.

No, not advertisers.

Us.

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