CBS Research Chief's Theory: TV Still a Big Bang

CBS Corp. Chief Research Officer David Poltrack is on a mission to correct misapprehensions that TV is any less effective than it's ever been, or the assumption that marketers are dropping it in favor of other media. And while that is a predictable stance from a company so dependent on TV advertising, Poltrack is adamant that he has the numbers to prove it. And CBS' solid earnings report last week didn't hurt his cause, which he is hardly shy about sharing.
He did just that rather strongly, standing up at the Association of National Advertisers TV Forum on Feb. 11 to challenge a Forrester Research survey that suggested that TV budgets are "under siege." The controversial report said that just 41% of media budgets were spent on TV in 2009, compared with 58% in the previous year. (Forrester predicts that TV ad budgets will be flat in 2010.) Poltrack believes the '09 dip is just plain inaccurate, and responded to the results by saying, "That is such a bullshit number."
He stated his case-minus further expletives-to B&C Business Editor Claire Atkinson in an interview. Following is an edited transcript.
The ANA/Forrester Research survey said advertisers are spending less on TV. You don't think that's true?
It's relative. Forrester's first survey in 2006 said marketers were moving away from TV, and predicted that revenue would go down 5%-10%. In 2007 it went up 4%, even though it was a non-Olympics year. Since 2006, TV has gone up as a percentage of the total budget. Yes, TV ad spending is down, but that was the recession. TV's share of advertising did not go down. In the fourth quarter of 2009 [versus Q4 2008], advertising is going up. There has been a turnaround; these numbers are wrong.
Is the study faulty?
The study is asking the wrong people the wrong questions. [Marketers] may not have decided yet or even be the people who have the stats. If I give you a survey about new media and new ways of spending and I ask you, "Are you spending less in TV?" you're going to say yes.
Also, it's not the same companies [in the survey] from one year to the next. To say there's been a movement from 58% of the budget [spent on TV] to 41% would mean there would have to be a corresponding drop in the TV market of 35%. What if there were two automakers in the survey one year and three the next?
You referenced the Advertising Research Foundation's findings on ad effectiveness. Tell us more.
The ARF conducted a study published in June 2009. They had 388 cases where the eight different marketing mix modelers, all of whom measure the return on investment of advertising, found that "TV is as effective as ever and possibly increasing in effect in terms of unit sales lift." TV builds awareness and interest in a service or offer. In the past, you'd see a TV ad and then it might be three days or three months to make a purchase decision. Now if it's of interest, you immediately can react to it. More modelers are recognizing that. When search began to build, modelers attributed all the sales gains to search, but search doesn't work unless something [TV] starts the process.