I’ve written frequently about how technology is changing the media industry—both on this site and in articles such as today’s piece on media consolidation on Tech Central Station—and one of the most significant events yet is about to happen: the Nielsen service is about to begin reporting on how many people watch the advertisements on commercial programs, in addition to the previous convention of reporting how may people watch the surrounding programs.
The first such ratings will be released on November 18 of this year.
This is a highly important change, of course, and it has TV executives understandably nervous. In a time when DVRs and the TV remote make it easy for viewers to zip through commercials without watching them or to switch back and forth among various channels to avoid sitting through advertisements, the companies that pay for TV programs are of course intensely interested in knowing whether the programs are actually delivering viewers to their ads and not just to the programs around them.
The effect of this new information will not be solely on television, by any means. Certainly advertisers have already attempted to lure viewers to watch their ads by creating amusing scenarios, little mysteries, and the like—as they have always done, but now more commonly and perhaps a bit desperately. That’s old news.
The real significance will be if the ratings cause advertisers to decide that they are not getting the best return on their investments in TV programming and choose to migrate more to newspapers, magazines, radio, and especially the Web. That would depress television’s profitability, though over the long run it would continue to rise as the overall economy contnues to grow.
What it would do most profoundly, I think, is raise the attractiveness of the web.
And what that infusion of money will do will be to accelerate the corporatizaion of the web, although it will still remain a more diverse medium than television, with a buy-in cost of basically zero for content providers (meaning all of us). More money will flow to web content providers, a much larger proportion of whom will not be affiliated with corporate giants than is currently the case with any other communications medium.
If that happens, this could be another great tidal change in the American mass media. The opening of the media into a wider range of voices will continue and accelerate, and although efforts by big government and big business to control the communications media will continue, the technological and social momentum will almost certainly be too much for them to overcome.
I’m betting that the effect will not be immediately obvious but that over time it will indeed be momentous.