"Daddy, put the show back on!"
Almost ten years ago, my wife and I decided the few shows we liked to watch on television weren't worth the high monthly fees our television service provider was charging, and so we "cut the cord".
But it wasn't a clean cut. At the time, we weren't sure if we were ready to give up television completely, so we put a High-Definition Antenna on our roof, which for one-time equipment and installation charge, gave us access to over a dozen channels that broadcast most of the shows we thought we might miss by eliminating our TV service.
One morning we happened to be watching CBC News using our antenna. When the news finished, a children's show began to air that my then-three-year-old daughter was familiar with from Netflix. And rather than switch our entertainment set-up from the antenna to Netflix, we just let the show continue.
Moments later, when the first commercial came on, my daughter looked at me angrily and said, "Daddy, put the show back on!"
You see, my daughter had never seen a commercial before. Having been raised with Netflix, she had never had her show interrupted by a TV ad and thought I had changed the channel. And she wasn't happy about it.
As a marketer, I was taken aback by this insight. The largest advertisers in the world spend the vast majority of their marketing dollars on television, but that approach was clearly going to be ineffective with the next generation of consumers who were so used to "on-demand" content that they wouldn't tolerate any interruption in their programming. At that moment, I realized just how much traditional marketers would need to evolve if they were going to be able to reach the consumers of the future.
Fast forward a few years, and we no longer have a High-Definition Antenna; our family now relies exclusively on streaming services for all of our in-home entertainment needs. My wife and I now have four children (aged 10, 8, 5, and 3) and all of them know how to access Netflix, Disney+, and YouTube to watch whatever they want, whenever they want.
My children also don't ever listen to the radio because we have a Spotify account. For my media-spoiled children, not being able to listen to exactly what they want to hear exactly when they want to hear it is unthinkable. I'm fairly certain my youngest has never heard a radio ad, and because we pay for the ad-free version of Spotify, I'm not sure he ever will.
The media landscape has changed significantly over the past decade, but media companies have been slow to evolve their traditional business models.
Here's an example.
My family likes to watch superhero shows together. The Flash is one of our favourites, but because we don't have a cable subscription, when we first started watching the show we could only watch the seasons that had already appeared on Netflix.
That was the case until The CW Network released an app that allowed anybody to watch their shows each week for free!
Of course, few things in life are actually free; the nice folks at The CW Network have a business to run, and they couldn't just open up their valuable content to everyone without finding a way to monetize it. To do that, they chose a traditional business model: allow advertisers to pay for access to their viewers.
You might guess what happened next. After a few minutes of watching "The Flash", my then-four-year-old son was exposed to his very first commercial break. And, like his sister before him, he wasn't happy about it.
I applaud The CW Network for allowing consumers to access their content directly, and certainly shouldn't be faulted for introducing commercials to the app in exchange for their content. But by simply adopting the traditional advertising model, they missed an opportunity to significantly improve upon it.
Rather than have four commercial breaks within a one-hour show, why not reduce that to two? And instead of forcing audiences to sit through five 30-second commercials in a row, why not require them to watch just one? By offering content strong enough to command an audience and then restricting its available ad inventory, the law of Supply and Demand dictates an app owner could charge a significant premium for each commercial spot. That's a win for the content provider.
Fewer commercials mean fewer viewer interruptions for the audience, resulting in a better viewing experience. That's a win for the consumer.
And because consumers aren't subjected to multiple ads in a row, space becomes less cluttered and the advertising is more likely to be recalled. That's a win for the advertiser.
Now, do you know what's surprising about this example?
It's the fact that I wrote and published it almost five years ago! Aside from some minor edits, it's almost identical to a post I made on my original blog dated October 6th, 2016... including the suggestions on how the ad experience could be improved for all parties. And yet, despite the fact that the entertainment industry had five years to evolve their offering to something that worked better for all parties, very little has changed.
It doesn't have to be this way.
And the sooner the industry decides to start innovating, the better off we'll all be.