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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Digital ad sales up, newspapers too, but tv is another matter

November 5, 2015 | By Mark Glaser, Founder and Publisher – MediaShift @mediatwit

For so long, the narrative on advertising spending has been a major shift toward digital, with print media bearing the brunt of the losses. But recent figures from the Standard Media Index (SMI), which monitors 80% of all U.S. spending mixed things up a bit with digital rising fast (up 29%), but newspapers also rising (up 18%) while TV ad spend slipped 4%.

The growth of digital advertising, at least, comes as no surprise. But newspapers had a rare bright spot in the report, and TV is showing some weakness.

Digital Gains
According to Shelleen Shum, an analyst with eMarketer, the value gained by digital spending doesn’t match the value being lost in traditional media. Television still wins when it comes to reaching a massive audience quickly, for example, and some advertisers may be wary about the accuracy of measuring and targeting digital advertising despite its rise. (eMarketer, for example, previously estimated that digital spending in North America would rise by 16.8% to reach $62.07 billion in 2015). Adding to that are concerns about fraudulent advertising on the web, as I’ve written about before.

Because digital advertising is often touted as more cost-effective, it also shakes up spending throughout the advertising world. “When advertisers shift budgets to digital media, they expect to save on their overall ad spending. Digital media thus has a deflationary effect on the broader ad market and can hurt the pricing power of traditional media,” the Wall Street Journal’s Nathalie Tadena wrote, citing feedback from the director of global forecasting at Magna Global.

Still, according to Magna Global’s research, digital media ad revenue will surpass that of television’s a year faster than predicted. It’ll become the biggest media category next year, generating $66 billion in revenue.

Newspapers and TV
Given the situation, traditional media can stay competitive by enhancing digital outputs. Newspapers’ ad growth suggests that consumers haven’t given up on them entirely even though circulation rates have been going down. SMI’s Jeff Fennessey told Media Life that newspaper print advertising was up 18% in September because “consumer electronics and entertainment both doubled their spend in the quarter, which really drove these exceptional results.” That even outperformed gains of 10% on the digital ad side for papers.

While the print bump is nice, newspapers know they need to continue to focus on developing digital audiences. Joan Shorenstein Fellow Matthew Hindman pointed out in a research paper for Harvard’s Shorenstein Center that if “faster load times lead to higher traffic”—which research consistently suggests — that’s an indicator of where there’s room to grow.

Barrett Golding, a fellow at the Donald W.  Reynolds Journalism Institute who ran a performance test on U.S. newspapers sites and visualized the sluggish load times, pointed out that many large news sites such as CNN have already invested in making sure their pages load quickly and effectively.

Television, meanwhile, hoped to attract big audiences and advertising with hit programs, football broadcasts and the presidential debates. But SMI found that it hasn’t happened yet, with the 4% overall drop in TV ad spending.

Even the upfront ad buys for TV, which kept prices high for some years, have finally lost their luster.

“The system has typically kept TV commercial prices high — even though advertisers feel they’re locking in discounts because they are buying in bulk,” Business Insider’s Lara O’Reilly wrote. With upfront spending having dropped by 10% in 2014-15, and television advertising purchased closer to the time of broadcast during the “scatter market” growing by 10%, that’s a signal that focusing on the scatter market — which tends to be cheaper — will become more important.

To be sure, just because digital advertising is rising more than any other type of media doesn’t mean that non-digital advertising, including television, is at a loss. Television’s staying power, in fact, comes from the fact it it can work digital advertising to its advantage. Online video is capturing much of the money being put into digital advertising, and television broadcasters and networks tend “to own the best premium video content,” as O’Reilly wrote.

In other words, it’s not necessarily about traditional versus digital advertising, but about how all media outlets can take advantage of multiple platforms—digital and traditional—to capture and hold gains.

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