The Future of Advertising and Non-Fiction Television

Broadcast networks charge advertisers more to reach fewer viewers. How long can it last, and what does it mean for independents?

Anyone making a living in video would do well to read this special report on the future of advertising by the Project for Excellence in Journalism. It succinctly explains how television advertising rates continue to rise even as viewership declines dramatically. Even before the writers strike threw an anvil to an industry trying to tread water, the numbers were telling:

For the first 11 weeks of the 2007-08 television season, prior to the effects of the fall 2007 Writers Guild of America strike, Nielsen data show viewer declines for the crucial 18-to-49 age group of 19.4% for NBC, 16.7% for CBS, 10.5% for ABC and 28.6% for CW. Only Fox improved, with a 3.4% gain.

The trend is clear. Broadcast television is fading. Audiences are gathering information and getting entertained elsewhere. With broadband penetration now over 50% in the US, web video may be at a long-awaited inflection point.

Accessing the video content marketplace

The same report included telling analysis of current cable television news fare.

[If] one were to have watched five hours of cable news, one would have seen about:

  • 35 minutes about campaigns and elections
  • 36 minutes about the debate over U.S. foreign policy
  • 26 minutes or more of crime
  • 12 minutes of accidents and disasters
  • 10 minutes of celebrity and entertainment

On the other hand, one would have seen:

  • 1 minute and 25 seconds about the environment
  • 1 minute and 22 seconds about education
  • 1 minute about science and technology
  • 3 minutes and 34 seconds about the economy
  • 3 minutes and 46 seconds about health and health care

Though the study only focused on cable news coverage, the numbers indicate some substantial areas of unmet needs. Needs that the independent video producer can safely assume will not be addressed by broadcasters dependent on mass audiences.

As independents retool for IPTV distribution, focusing on these Long Tail sectors – the environment, education, and science and technology – will prove lucrative.

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