Why the TV ad is an endangered species

| Updated on: Jan 30, 2014
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Television advertising has many enemies beginning with the cap on airtime and eyes riveted on other digital screens. Will it survive?

The television medium had its fair share of corner-room discussions in 2013. Big issues confronting the small screen reared their head more than once — the TRAI cap on TV ad time on channels, media agencies locking horns with channel executives on billing issues, and the simmering differences over audience measurement. However, much as marketers crave for it, TV ads do not figure greatly in drawing-room conversations.

It was Nitin Paranjpe, currently the president of homecare for Anglo-Dutch consumer goods company Unilever, who brought the issue to the fore some months ago at the country’s biggest advertising summit in Goa. Before addressing the gathering of advertising veterans, Paranjpe’s India team (he was MD and CEO of Hindustan Unilever then) went out into the market to ask consumers what they thought about advertisements. “It was shocking to hear what people are saying about advertising. I remain deeply concerned,” Paranjpe told the senior ad persons.

The issue: There are more than 800 channels beaming, on average, 3,000 advertising messages at consumers every week. However, most of them are lost on the consumer. “Even when they see 100 per cent of these ads, they remember 0 per cent,” he says. One could well argue that the problem is an old one. Others might say it depends on the quality of advertising.

No time for TV

But there is a bigger problem creeping up the marketer’s alley. Television, the advertisers’ largest medium with 40-plus per cent share of the advertising pie, seems to be fast losing its place under the sun. At one end, appointment viewing (watching a TV programme at the scheduled time) is on the decline. In the big cities, people either return home late from work or there is more than one programme worth watching at the same time. In rural areas, the unpredictable power situation makes appointment viewing near-impossible. As the biggest spenders on television, Hindustan Unilever executives know this problem only too well.

And in recent times, several other unfamiliar issues have been unsettling the comfort zone of TV ads. One such is the digital video recorder (DVR), which could greatly impact the way advertising is created and served in the future, as consumers can watch recorded programmes minus the ads. The device can fast-forward or block out ads altogether. This is already happening in the big cities, where a programme’s telecast timings are not convenient to the viewer.

When tech kills

Harit Nagpal, managing director of the direct-to-home (DTH) service provider Tata Sky, has said earlier that more than six per cent of Tata Sky consumers had a DVR. That number could increase as DVR prices crash. Half of what it cost five years ago, a DVR is now priced about ₹3,000. “In the future it could be ₹300 or, worse, it could be given free,” he said.

The other issue is that many are viewing their favourite TV programmes on their mobile phones, tablets and other handy devices. This again puts TV advertising in the endangered zone. In the past year, many celebrated ad films have been talking points largely because they were liked and shared on YouTube — Cadbury’s Five-Star No Hard Fillings, Tata Sky’s The Great Escape, Google’s India-Pak film, and many more.

There are many who rush to the defence of the TVC, arguing that the telly will remain the mainstay of any media plan. That includes clients as well.

“Being a national advertiser in the FMCG segment, we need to reach out to the mass across a wide geographical area. Television will hold the main media position because of its reach, efficiency and audiovisual impact across a widely-accepted family structure of India,” says Bashab Sarkar, Senior Vice-President – Media, Emami Ltd. As for television network heads, it’s at least “10-15 years before we have this discussion in India,” says Rohit Gupta, president, Sony Entertainment Television, India.

Gupta’s defence is that even in the more evolved markets such as the US with nearly 2,000 channels, a single 30-second advertising spot on Superbowl still costs $4 million. The second point is that the television sets in homes are getting bigger and better, something consumers would not invest in if viewership habits were changing.

And then, the overall cable and satellite television (C&S) population of 150 million-plus homes has enough room for growth. Gupta points out that nearly 200 million homes in India are still without a C&S connection and the industry is adding 10-15 million homes every year. “Everything will co-exist. Digital will not take away from television. Both have ample opportunities and it will not be a case of one at the cost of the other,” he says.

Like the saying in advertising, print advertising was not killed when television came into the picture. Digital, they expect, will be kind enough to do the same favour.

Published on March 12, 2018

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