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Is it Advertising?

August 23rd, 2018   ||    by Rick Howe   ||    No Comments

If you are reading this, you are probably in the television business. Ask somebody watching “House of Cards” on Netflix on their living room TV, “Are you watching television now?” and they are most likely to say “yes.” Ask the same question to that same person sitting in Starbucks watching “House of Cards” on their mobile device, they are likely to say, “No. I’m watching Netflix.”

It’s the context, of course. Same show. Same service. Different place. Different device.

And when it comes to advertising, that context makes all the difference.

We may tolerate a two-minute commercial break on our living room TV, and, frankly, the long history of commercials in television have made us somewhat numb to the noise and immune to the message. And thank heavens – or thank the engineers – for DVRs that allow us to record live TV and skip through the ads.

But as we all know, two-minute commercial breaks on smart phones in a Starbucks will result in a lot of Smart Phone Latte Blends . . .

To the surprise of none, Netflix is now testing video ads and promotions, according to Sam Machkovech writing for Technica: Netflix will now interrupt series binges with video ads for its other series | Ars Technica

Those ads and promotions are currently for other Netflix programs: “If you like THIS, you’re gonna love THAT.”  And that’s a nice safe way for Netflix to gauge reactions from their subscribers. Essentially smart tune-in ads, driven by the same profile technology that Netflix uses to recommend shows on their home page, with a little digital ad insertion magic thrown in for good measure.

I think, however, it will be awhile before Netflix starts advertising Tide laundry detergent across the board, but I would not be at all surprised to see them sending a Tide ad to someone who’s profile suggests responsibility for little kids dirty clothes during a binge session of “Camp Cook Kids.”

But let’s take an intermediate step before jumping off the cliff of advertising sponsorship for heretofore ad-free services like Netflix, HBO, Showtime and Starz.

If we assume (safely I believe) that Netflix subscribers will tolerate and even learn to appreciate “smart” tune-in ads, then we have an interesting role that could be played by virtual MVPDs that are already launched or about to be launched by DIRECTV, Dish/Sling, Comcast, Charter et al. Comcast, in particular, has integrated Netflix and Amazon Prime into their Xfinity X1 service. And if Netflix can safely promote one show before or after another show, and Amazon Prime can do the same, how long will it be before Comcast offers a little magic of their own to both partners?

If I’m a Netflix subscriber, watching through a Comcast X1 box, and I don’t have Amazon Prime, doesn’t it make sense for both Comcast and Amazon to promote Amazon Prime to me? Ditto if I have Amazon Prime and not Netflix. And how much would HBO Now pay Comcast to insert an ad for the “Westworld” series after a showing of the original movie on Amazon Prime?

More likely that Amazon Prime would want to insert an ad around a showing of HBO’s “Westworld” for the original movie on Amazon.

Is it advertising?

And then there is local news. During a 90-minute 5:00 – 6:30 PM local newscast, we may see about 25 minutes of news stories. The rest is sports, weather and ENDLESS “coming up next” promotions for news stories. As many viewers ask (my wife among them), “why not just show us the story NOW???” The answers are two-fold: 1) the station wants you to watch the entire program, and 2) the station needs to get the most mileage from the limited number of stories they have available to air that evening.

Is it advertising? It’s certainly promotion. And it’s certainly annoying. But it’s part of the local news program. Imagine if a hit television show kept hitting us in the head with upcoming scenes.

Wait a minute! That’s what “NCIS does”, with their famous “Foof,” or “Phoof.” That’s the unofficial name for the black and white “preview” of the beginning of each act during an “NCIS” episode. For your “NCIS” nerds, “Foof” made its debut in Season 2, Episode 4, “Lt. Jane Doe.”  And with “NCIS” being the most watched TV show in the world (according to CBS), you cannot argue with success. And other shows, memorably “Killing Eve” on BBCA have used similar techniques to tease the next act.

Is it Advertising? We’ve scaled down the :60 commercial to a :30, then a split :30, then :15 and now :06. Maybe the “Foof” is next – a black and white freeze frame or a product shot with a distinctive sound. TV friendly. Audience friendly. And mobile friendly.

Stay tuned.


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