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How to Fix TV’s Brewing Commodity Crisis

"Advertisers want to back a winner, so you must tell them continually how, and how much, you are winning with audiences that matter to their brands." -Andy Sippel, Advertiser Perceptions

Last month, 200 advertisers told Advertiser Perceptions they don’t see much difference between TV networks. Worse, they used the word “commodity,” with 67% of a total panel of 300 saying TV networks are becoming commoditized. That’s a brewing crisis for the business.

It’s all well and fine for viewers to put shows first and networks a distant second. After all, they’re watching more TV than ever in ways that keep multiplying. Getting them to stay tuned to a channel is increasingly a lower percentage of the game when they set DVRs and click on Hulu without even knowing the channel. That’s not a problem. The business just needs their allegiance to content to keep growing.

But advertisers are another matter. Their deals are with networks. And how advertisers think of networks matters more than ever, as more begin the buying process by talking broadly with a handful of networks they know and trust to do bigger, longer deals. For the networks, the chance at a stable, multi-year, multiplatform partnership comes down to its brand, audience, and ideas. That starts with the brand.

Advertisers used to know which networks aired what kinds of programs, and which audiences they attracted. It’s not as clear-cut with quality everywhere spurring an on-demand culture. They need to be reminded more than ever, and they need to be sold on something more – what the audience connection across a network’s platforms can mean for their brands.

To remind advertisers, networks need to market their track records of success more consistently. Keep in mind that above all, advertisers are investors. They want to back a winner, so you must tell them continually how, and how much, you are winning with audiences that matter to their brands. To sell marketers on something distinct, networks need to turn salespeople into demand generators who sell programs, not channel slots.

That starts with showing marketers their brand audiences through the prism of a network’s many properties. In other words, selling insights about the audience that advertisers wouldn’t ordinarily notice. For example, what does a network’s millennial audience really mean for a car, insurance, or sports drink company? And how do you brief the creative team on the tones of different programs?

To do this, networks need to reinvest in insight and talent. Concerted marketing takes experienced people and time to find the interconnections between fast-evolving categories and audiences, articulate the network’s relative advantages, and tell that story across a widening array of business communications. And it takes sellers with the knowledge and confidence to translate the quality of audience commitment into a connection unique to a client’s brands – the ante for high-level client meetings that networks need more of.

Senior sellers can get and deliver on a client meeting because they know a lot more about the client’s business. Got a launch? They know how to approach it and they know what the competition is doing in media. They also know what can and can’t be done, and they can make opportunities happen internally.

The network brand matters supremely because that’s where the sales action is. And, it’s the imprimatur that’s getting lost in the content overwhelm, even though TV’s world-class stories are central to our cultural conversation. That brand needs to be sold, not just marketed, to return to pedigree status in the minds of advertisers.

Andy Sippel is an executive vice president at Advertiser Perceptions. He leads the company's business intelligence practice for traditional media companies and sectors. Advertiser Perceptions is the global leader in research-based business intelligence for the advertising industry. Their exclusive insights, practical advice and knowledgeable guidance produce actionable solutions that deliver results and enable their clients to thrive in today’s complex and competitive advertising market.