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The Age of Interruption is Over, But the TV Business Doesn’t Want to Address It

Over the holiday break, if you were able to pull yourself away from whatever binge show you’ve been engorging yourself on, there was an abundance of great sports to watch (other than in New York). Between the college bowl games, last weeks of the NFL season and the NBA Christmas Day marathon, Americans were treated to a verifiable smörgåsbord worth of pigskin action to keep them on the couch.

That is, if you didn’t choke on all the ads you’re going to see.

Indeed, for a habitual streamer, there is nothing quite more jarring that coming back from a Netflix bubble to a live, network TV broadcast, especially a sporting event with a now seemingly ungodly number of commercial breaks. This game is amazing. But Jesus there are a lot of $#*&@ ads!

Let’s face it, your ad tolerance is shot, and so is everyone else’s. I’m 45 years old, and I grew up sitting through :30 after :30, commercial jingles burned into my brain from “Ah Antonivich” or “Big Red” gum for all of eternity.

And I can barely endure a single commercial (let alone a banner that hijacks my phone or a 15 second podcast ad). Watching a sporting event has become a slog specifically because of its real timeless, which is more than a little ironic.

If I can’t take it, what’s it like for a millennial 30-year-old who spend the past half decade on Netflix? Or a teenager who’s skipped ads on YouTube all her life?

2018 was a year marked by many macro media shifts and shakeups. And here’s one that’s definitive and scary as hell for the mass marketing: the Age of Interruption is over.

As Axios put it recently, it’s simple. Everything is on demand. And thus everything that isn’t on demand seems to suck in comparison.

Which makes me scratch my head over why the TV industry is expending so much of its efforts to pound consumers over the head with loads of ‘relevant’ ads, without fundamentally changing the ad model that supports TV.

The faith placed in ‘addressability’ in solving all of TV’s needs seems strikingly misplaced – the businesses version of whistling past the set-top graveyard.

Or as one top executive put it to me recently, “by the time we actually figure out how to get addressable TV to actually work, nobody will be watching live TV anymore.”

Yet the blind faith in addressable TV as a savior continues unabated -despite how challenging it appears to be to actually scale and execute. ‘If we just get enough households plugged into our platforms, we can get everybody who’s looking for a car their own ad, even if that’s in pod number 7 of a sitcom.’ ‘If we just can plug our DMP into a TV DSP of some sort and data match, addressable TV will be just like digital!’

Right, the medium where half the world seems to be using ad blockers. Look at the most recent data for live TV viewing. The only people left watching live linear TV are 55-plus. Is this what the addressable TV proponents are racing to capture?

To be sure, there’s plenty of spending power left in this graying demographic, despite the fact that advertisers always crave brand impressionable youth.

But that’s not a long-term solution, It reminds me of when Napster hit the music business, and record companies decided to focus on selling box sets to Baby Boomers who didn’t know how to steal music.

Eventually we realized that music needed a fundamental product delivery reboot. Which eventually took hold, over a painful decade and a half.

Instead of following suit, TV is racing to bet on better targeting, while paying lip service to ad load reduction. NBC is cutting prime ad time. FX is cutting ads on its apps. Terrific. But the most recent data shows live TV ad clutter is worse than ever.

Now, the entire delivery mechanism of the medium needs rewiring. Easier said than done. You can’t just squeeze a $70 billion ad market into fewer ad spots and some branded content sponsorship vehicles and hope nothing spills out.

True. That doesn’t change the fact that TV advertising is crying out for some bold, some innovative thinking. It would help if the majority of TV were delivered over digital pipes sooner rather than later. It needs to get it infrastructure in order ASAP. Maybe you don’t need a single ad for each person like the web, but you need something better than we have now.

What might that look like? Hulu’s choice-driven interface is a good start. Spotify’s model – where Spotify asks if you will watch an ad to get 30 minutes of music – would seem more palatable to TV viewers, who would at least be getting interrupted on their terms.

Or if you want to get crazy, massive technological hurdles aside, what if OTT advertising simply adopted the YouTube ‘you can skip this after a few seconds’ model?

A lot of ads would be totally ignored. But the best would win out. And maybe commercial TV as a medium doesn’t get skipped over entirely.