TV has the opportunity to take the lead in saving their business by rallying behind TVB’s new electronic national spot-buying system.
One of the things that emerge from talking to TV station group executives in my Executive Session series and in listening to them in conference calls with securities analysts is the consensus that the national spot business is gradually shrinking away.
That’s quite a concession by the broadcasters, given that national spot still accounts for about a third of their revenue. But you can’t blame them. Other than politicians who can’t get enough of local newscasts, advertisers have been shifting more and more dollars into TV networks and the Internet.
But last week, hope for some kind of turnaround appeared at a press conference on Madison Avenue in New York. Backed with seed money from the NAB, the Television Bureau of Advertising said that it would raise $5 million over the next several months and develop a Web-based system that would take much of the cost, drudgery and errors out of buying national spot.
The ePort platform would interface will all existing buying and selling software and be free to buyers.
The TVB’s thinking is, if broadcasters can make buying spots easier and cheaper, they will sell more. Now, that’s right out of Marketing 101. That’s all the McDonald brothers were doing when they began cranking out burgers using their “Speedee Service System” in San Bernardino, Calif., a generation ago.
TVB President Chris Rohrs and his top lieutenant Abby Auerbach have long understood the concept, but have been frustrated in turning the concept into practice. For the past several years, they tried to computerize spot selling by encouraging the vendors of buying and selling software to do the job. That didn’t get them far.
“The vendors in the end were not willing to invest their dollars in products they were not confident people would buy,” Rohrs says.
Rohrs is too much a diplomat to say so, but past e-business efforts have been derailed by some vendors who feared that the common-platform approach would cut into their businesses.
So, late last year, after media buyer guru Irwin Gotlieb of Group M challenged all media to go paperless, Rohrs and Auerbach decided broadcasters could wait no longer. It was do-it-yourself time.
Rohrs believes the stakes are much larger than just spot TV. The difficulties that TV stations now have selling spot will only get worse as they bring Web sites, multiple digital channels and mobile services to the market.
Broadcasters have little choice but to modernize, Rohrs says. “Good lord, we absolutely have to, or else there is no business.”
I’ve got to believe that all those years of trying to get the vendors to develop the e-business system—countless hours in countless committee meetings—has made Auerbach—TVB point person on the project—an expert on what needs to be done.
So, the only real obstacle is that $5 million. Approval of the idea by the TVB and NAB boards suggests that the leading broadcasters who make up those trade groups are willing to put up the necessary cash. But we will have to see on that.
A few years back, there was a movement to form an industry-funded broadcast lab to develop digital. NAB promised to kick in seed money for that, but the idea eventually withered because of the big dollars involved. It’s too bad. The lab could have been paying big dividends right about now.
In any event, TVB is to be applauded for the initiative. NAB, too, for helping to get it off the ground. In this digital age, for once, broadcasters are not lagging behind other media. They are taking the lead.