TV Has A Growing Reach Problem

TV Used to Put the ‘Mass’ In Mass Media. Not Anymore.

By: Published: February 28, 2012


In 1997, noted media researcher Erwin Ephron presented a paper titled “Learning to live in Lilliput, the media land where small is beautiful. Optimizing reach with low ratings and other thoughts on TV fragmentation.” In it, Ephron wrote about the TV’s growing audience-fragmentation problem and presciently saw what would happen if the media-buying community continued to focus the bulk of TV budgets on a declining pool of larger-rated shows without strategically dispersing a large volume of spots across lots of shows with small audiences.

Folks didn’t listen then and — in spite of fragmentation along the lines of Ephron’s forecast — apparently won’t listen now. TV ad campaigns in the U.S. today deliver considerably less reach than they did in 1997, even though TV viewing is at an all-time high. Fifteen years ago, a heavy national schedule with average frequency would reach 80-90% of its target audience in three weeks. Today, most heavy multiweek national ad campaigns are lucky to reach 60% of TV viewers in their target audience.

The story is even worse when it comes to frequency distribution. Fifteen years ago, TV advertisers could expect 40% of their campaigns’ impressions to be concentrated on the 20% of their target audience who were the heaviest TV viewers. Today, the frequency imbalance is almost twice as bad. According to both Nielsen data as well as Simulmedia’s database of anonymous second-by-second set-top box viewing data of 30 million Americans, those 20% of target viewers who are heavy TV viewers now receive 60 to 80% of most national TV campaign impressions. This squanders advertiser money, needlessly accelerates the “wear out” of creatives and alienates target customers who feel bombarded by redundant messaging.

Don’t believe me? Go ahead and run the data yourself with any of the national audience data systems: Nielsen AudienceWatch or Nielsen AMRLD or Kantar or TRA or Rentrak. You will see similar results.

How did this happen? It happened because TV audiences have fragmented dramatically over the past 15 years and the TV media industry has not adjusted its planning, buying and measurement tools and strategies to keep pace.

Twenty years ago, the average American household had access to 28 TV channels, and brands like Fox, Nickelodeon and TNT were babies. Today, Americans have 165 channels and watch networks like Military Channel, Investigation Discovery and BBC America. Twenty years ago, in an average week, there were hundreds of shows with a rating of 10 or better. Today, there are scarcely more than a dozen. Today, it takes four to five spots to deliver the equivalent media weight of one spot 15 or 20 years ago, and eight to deliver as much reach. That’s an enormous change.

As Ephron’s paper noted, “Fragmentation challenges the analytical capabilities of our research systems. … Our current approach — using the program and day part as ways of organizing media value — becomes less useful as audiences get smaller.”

TV’s ability to reach a lot of people in a short period of time, and to do it efficiently, is what has historically set it apart from all other advertising media. It is why national brand advertisers have to plan and buy it first and why TV has historically received the dominant share of brand expenditures. Neither radio nor print nor out-of-home — nor even the internet — has the capacity to efficiently deliver multiple effective advertising messages to tens of millions of target consumers in the space of a few days or weeks.

However, competition for media dollars is intensifying. Clients want to move more money to digital. They want to “jump into” social media. They are demanding more and better measurement and ROI. This is not a good time for folks in the TV media industry to undermine their core competitive advantage and sell and buy campaigns with such bad reach and frequency balance. And it certainly won’t help the medium’s ability to stave off calls to shift more money into digital channels.

Unfortunately, so much of the energy in TV buying today is spent chasing those declining dozen or so top-rated shows rather than developing the analytical chops to efficiently accumulate target audience across the exploding landscape of smaller-rated shows that attract relevant, passionate audiences. The problem, as all media researchers know, is that heavy TV viewers tend to watch all of the highly-rated shows, so buying more of those shows doesn’t get you much more reach. Not so when you get into lots and lots of lower-rated shows.

Contrary to the opinion of many, strategically dispersing ads across many smaller audience shows is not mutually exclusive with buying those several high-rated shows which clients seem to prefer. They complement each other, and you get much more reach and much better balanced frequency. As we prepare for this year’s upfronts, I do think it would be instructive to go back and read the concluding sentences to Ephron’s paper:

Buyers will have to push for change. The TV networks are trapped by their own success with day parts. In prime time, more dollars chasing less inventory has increased prices substantially each year. But there is an issue larger than pricing. Day part thinking increases costs and limits reach which, in turn limits television’s effectiveness. Smaller ratings need not cripple TV if we learn to use the entire medium.Fragmentation is not the nemesis of mass TV advertising. There is a cosmic fairness to it all. Greater choice for viewers creates the fragmentation which in turn creates greater choice for buyers. If we are going to live in Lilliput, we should wake up and smell the little flowers.

What do you think? Is the industry ready to hear Ephron’s nearly 15 year-old warning?

Dave Morgan is CEO and founder of New York-based Simulmedia, a TV ad targeting company. Simulmedia uses data-driven technology to help improve the relevance and results of TV advertising. Follow him on Twitter at



CPM Participates in Sacramento Candidate Training Boot Camp

Top California Female Media Operatives Join Force to help Women Candidates (as appearing in ELECT WOMEN magazine)

Fran McInerney has built a lot of muscle directing targeted political advertising campaigns.  While heading Comcast’s political efforts in the region for many years, Fran logged countless hours overseeing ad placement and compliancy for over 150 races including statewide props, advocacy/organization campaigns, independent expenditures and local measures.

This knowledge combined with strong working relationships with independent political consultants was paramount when Fran decided to form her own firm, (CPM) Campaign Political Media in 2010.  Based in Northern California, CPM is a strategic media planning and placement firm specializing in broadcast, cable, radio and online for candidates, issue and advocacy groups.

Recently, Fran added credence to CPM’s high level of blue-chip expertise by bringing in a new woman partner, Evelyn Grewal.  Evelyn joined CPM with solid media credentials in both traditional and new media.  She spent the past few years in tech and digital strategies including web and mobile-based initiatives. Prior to that, she served as VP Media for Macy’s West, a division of Federated with over $134B in revenues and a California-focused ad budget of over $300M. In an earlier life she managed a multitude of national political campaigns in the broadcast television arena for Blair Television Sales.

While working on their slate of candidates for the 2012 election cycle, Fran and Evelyn were reminded once again of the lack of women running for office.  They cite the alarming statistics from the Woman’s Campaign Fund:  “The United States trails behind much of the world, ranking 90th in the number of women in the national legislature.  Only 17% of the seats in the current US Congress are held by women, and women make up only 24% of individual state legislatures combined.”

As part of their focus, the newly aligned partners at CPM have decided to direct part of their efforts towards helping women across the country achieve positions of power in legislative bodies.

“It’s time women achieve our ‘share of voice’ in government,” says Fran.  “Consider this fact: 50% fewer women than men ever consider running for office, and of those, less than 30% actually run with only a fraction seeking higher office.”  She adds “We at CPM would like to offer help and professional advice to female candidates seeking office.”

Evelyn chimes in: “Women must be empowered to stand guard over issues that are important to all women – whether they are stay-at-home moms, working women or retired.  We know, first hand, a woman’s role as caregiver and the difficulties and issues women face in caring for their families and elderly parents.  We are also passionate about women’s rights and the distorted balance of power with men forming 83% of the sitting US Congress.”

As part of their initiative, Fran and Evelyn will be sharing their media knowledge by participating in training boot camps for female candidates.  The first, in partnership with Sacramento’s Fem Dems will be held on March 3rd (

Fran says, “Our goal, regardless of political affiliation, is to help qualified female candidates successfully navigate the media landscape for optimum ROI on media spend.”

CPM specializes in all media, including Broadcast TV, Cable, Radio, Print, Out of Home, and Online.  In addition, they provide services for website and mobile application development and a multitude of web-based digital applications for campaign fundraising and social sentiment monitoring.

Interested parties can visit their website at and can email them for advice or answers to questions.

Mobile Video Ads Growing Fast; Will Mobile Video Trump Online Pre-Rolls?

Not only are consumers increasingly connected to their mobile phones, they’re also responding to the ads they see on handheld devices. A pair of recent studies confirms that advertising on mobile video isn’t just growing quickly; it’s growing effectively.

For starters, online video ad network YuMe reported that the number of mobile impressions jumped in volume by more than 80% from the third quarter to the fourth quarter of 2011, in its latest quarterly trend report. Mobile comprised about 5% of ads served in the fourth quarter, up from 2.7% in the third quarter.

YuMe also found that pre-roll ads, while still incredibly dominant, dropped to 89% of ads in 2011, down from 93% of video ads in 2010. Specifically on a quarter over quarter basis, pre-rolls dropped from 90% of all video ads in the third quarter to 86% in the fourth quarter, a drop YuMe attributes to more share coming from mobile phones and connected TVs.

Does this data suggest that mobile is on a path to overtake pre-rolls? There’s not enough evidence yet to draw that conclusion. However, mobile ad campaigns for the time being are among the most effective. Mobile phones generate a much higher click through – 4.5 times – than that of online video, according to a new report from video vendor Videology. On mobile phones the messaging is often more targeted, the calls to action are stronger, and consumers are also more connected to their phones, Videology said. A mobile phone feels personal and thus can elicit more response.

It’s also worth noting that a rising tide lifts all ships. New media works best in tandem and Videology found that campaigns using multiple screens of online video, mobile and connected TVs generated a 9 times increase in brand recall than those only using online video.