The Death of Simultaneity

Posted on October 25, 2008 by Tony Uphoff

Audience fragmentation has gone into hyper growth in the digital media age. The Internet was certainly the major innovation but we're now also seeing digital media devices like the iPod, Tivo, Kindle and smart phones enable time shifting and place shifting, driving even more fragmentation. You would think that this media fragmentation would be a bonanza for major media companies and ad agencies. More people, using more media, on more platforms creates even more opportunities to reach and influence consumers right? Well not exactly.

It's true that more people, use more media than ever before. The problem is that the media model the majority of consumer marketers and agencies use is woefully out of synch with today's fragmented media world. Simply put the marketing business model that many marketers, agencies and media companies use today doesn't work. And it's getting worse.

The two dominant advertising platforms over the last 100 years have been daily newspapers and television. There was good reason for this too. Both mediums aggregated large, diverse, mass audiences that provided marketers the broadest reach available. This sheer reach overruled concerns of demographic targeting as the efficiency from a cost point of view was unmatched. There was another reason these mediums were so powerful however. Simultaneity. Not only did television and daily newspapers aggregate large audiences, they brought these audiences together AT THE SAME TIME. This created a double play. The largest available audience all seeing or reading your message simultaneously and in turn touching off instant word of mouth.

The Internet and digital technology enabling time and place shifting have forever changed the media world. They have driven the death of simultaneity in media. Television ratings, which peaked in the 1980's, have been declining for over 20 years. Readership of daily newspapers has also been steadily decreasing. Television shows that still drive some level of simultaneous viewership, especially those that are Tivo proof, like American Idol or live sports, command huge advertising premiums in a declining mass market.

The death of simultaneity does not mean the death of media. Again there are more people using more media than ever before. It does require a different marketing business model however. One reason that the Internet hasn't grown even faster as an advertising platform is the lack of simultaneity. Internet advertising is priced based on the number of monthly visitors, number of page views, or the number of clicks, registrants or some other metric of audience built over time. It's not priced by simultaneous audience. Internet media providers and advertising agencies have not created a standard currency for Internet media either. For the most part many agencies and media businesses are still stuck in a television or daily newspaper reach pricing model. Today marketing and media value is built by audience engagement built over time. It's one reason that lead generation drives so much of the online revenue today. I would argue that this is also why Yahoo hit the wall. In the land grab phase of the Internet when many marketers thought the medium was simply a television or newspaper model online, Yahoo did very well. Once the market shifted from a general reach paradigm to one of engagement built over time however, they were toast. And as their recent quarterly results, (64%) drop in profits on flat revenue, would suggest, they are struggling to build the systems to play catch up to Google and MSN.

In the end, the ability that digital media platforms provide marketers to drive word of mouth and audience engagement will far surpass anything that mass, simultaneous viewership and readership ever provided. It's time for marketers, agencies and media companies to realize this however. And embrace it.,

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