TV Needs To Boost, Not Bash, Digital Media

Gordon Borrell: "The marketing world has changed. Advertisers are more media savvy than they were just a decade ago. They know the power of each medium and see right through anyone who doesn’t. Rather than downplaying the effectiveness of digital advertising, television’s message should be: Look at the power of digital media and how TV magnifies it."

The TV industry has a remarkable story to tell, but it’s not telling it well.

In fact, I think many are telling the wrong story altogether.

The wrong story is that TV is powerful and that digital media is a fraud. It’s coming from various sources, but never was it so clearly stated as when media critic Michael Wolff uttered these words at last fall’s TVB Forward Conference: “Digital media consists of this entirely undifferentiated audience — an audience that you trick to come to you, an audience that doesn’t care about you, an audience that actually doesn’t know who you are.”

Wolff also said digital “is worth very little,” and that TV is prevailing because it refused to change in the face of digital challenges.

Good as it may feel, it isn’t the story the industry should embrace. In fact, it could be quite harmful. 

The marketing world has changed. Advertisers are more media savvy than they were just a decade ago. They know the power of each medium and see right through anyone who doesn’t.


Television’s message should be: look at the power of digital media and how TV magnifies it.

A “digital first” attitude is hard for traditional media people to swallow. But it’s actually in sync with what’s on marketers’ minds. In a survey of 7,308 local advertisers, the types of marketing that they felt drove new customers the most were “my company website” and “social media.” Those two choices beat out all other forms of media by a wide margin.

By telling advertisers that digital media is a pack of lies, you may as well call them stupid. And if you forward them an article about the rise of ad-blocking software, you run the risk of them pointing out that all TV households have at least a four pieces of ad-blocking hardware (the doorbell, the toilet, the remote control and the refrigerator.)

So let’s not go there.

There’s a more powerful reason to tell the TV story differently: TV understands digital media very well — perhaps better than any other media competitor. In preliminary results from a recent survey of local advertisers, 27% rated TV reps “very effective” or “extremely effective” in digital marketing capabilities. Comparatively, 19% gave newspaper reps high ratings and 14% gave radio high ratings.

It’s a very powerful message, and it doesn’t just extend to digital. TV also received the highest rank for overall marketing expertise. Thirty-six percent rated TV reps very effective or extremely effective in marketing expertise, compared with 31% for radio and 30% for newspapers.

It’s a positive story, and one that’s far more aligned with the marketplace.

Like blacksmiths discovered 100 years ago, defending the virtues of the old business (horses and carriages) and badmouthing the new (automobiles) got them nowhere. But those who recognized that their customers were changing, and changed with them, survived, evolving into service stations and car dealerships.

That’s the path the TV industry should be taking, and the story we should be telling.

Gordon Borrell has been in the media industry for 41 years. In 2001 he founded research firm Borrell Associates, which licenses market-level advertising data to more than 250 media companies in the U.S. and Canada. He can be reached at [email protected].

Comments (12)

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Amneris Vargas says:

June 8, 2016 at 10:12 am

Gordon, the bashing is loudest around/during Upfronts, further amplified as buyers are making their choices. The truth is that most broadcasters are incredible digital proponents, understand the value of multi-channel marketing and the opportunity in amplifying a clients messaging through digital… Great article. Funny too.

Ron link says:

June 8, 2016 at 10:20 am

Good article Gordon…the one thing the Broadcast industry never understood is that digital (positioned properly) is the best tool they have in INCREASING traditional TV revenue. I’ve been in way over 100 stations…know that I’m making that statement from experience.

John Avellino says:

June 8, 2016 at 12:00 pm

Increas Revenue Digital/Traditional by getting local signal to the internet along with their advertising in a live linear stream and get Retrans from an OTT OVD. FCC Docket# 14-261 THIS is absolutely Common Sense and would propel local broadcasters with a new revenue stream and promote localism which is so vital the American Way of Life. Local TV Broadcasters are getting chipped away at in the digital world as the delivery mechanism shifts to broadband. Give us a NETFLIX for all of our Live, Local, Broadcast TV in an easy Log In system with NO Hardware, No contracts So Millenials will actually be interested in Broadcast TV. Sometimes I feel the powers that be are so blindsided by the fact they have had a Moat around their business model for so long and they have the arrogance to think it will just continue. Go into a College Classroom today and ask how many of those kids are “Cord Nevers” and Cord Cutters and even if they know what a good defintion of what BroadcastTV even is. Then Ask them if they sub to Netflix and 95% of them will raise their hands. Wake Up Local Broadcasters cause The FCC has this ability to advance the industry on the docket right NOW. Docket# 14-261 Promoting Innovation and Competition in the Provision of Multichannel Video Programming Distribution Services

    Wagner Pereira says:

    June 8, 2016 at 5:34 pm


    John Avellino says:

    June 9, 2016 at 12:32 pm

    It’s a Shame Insider You could of learned something. You could of read the whole thing in the time it took to comment. Go Hoyas!!

    Veronica Serrano Padilla says:

    June 9, 2016 at 4:06 pm

    The poster (imposter, really) called “Insider” already thinks he knows everything…

    Wagner Pereira says:

    June 9, 2016 at 11:43 pm

    Give you did not know that ATSC 3.0 was IP based, I will learn things – only not from you.

    Veronica Serrano Padilla says:

    June 11, 2016 at 12:42 am

    LMAO…. 40 acres and a mule…

    Wagner Pereira says:

    June 17, 2016 at 9:26 pm

    Weekend’s here. For you in your town of North Georgia to get banjos going and hunt Ned Beatty.

Greg Johnson says:

June 9, 2016 at 11:18 am

Agree, but I think that boat has sailed.

    John Avellino says:

    June 14, 2016 at 3:31 pm

    Maybe Not TMAC – I just saw something pretty interesting on B&C haven’t quite studied it enough just yet .

    Veronica Serrano Padilla says:

    June 15, 2016 at 4:50 pm

    OTT for local stations doesn’t necessarily depend on the FCC making changes. Dish Network’s SLING TV is now streaming ABC programming in select affiliate markets. And I understand Sony’s Vue is doing the same. These two examples show that the FCC doesn’t necessarily have to get involved – there just needs to be a financial reward for all participants.