Convergence Redux – The Future of Media Buying

Twelve years ago, I wrote an article in Broadcaster Magazine entitled “Betting on Convergence” and was allowed to speculate about the near future of media consumption, content and audiences. In this article, I intend to see how well (or how poorly) I did at predicting the future, and take another stab at predicting the future of advertising media over the next few years.

Back in 2000, “convergence” was the buzz word in media circles. Essentially, major broadcast and publishing companies were consolidating and evolving into larger, multi-media companies. At the same time, digital media was still evolving, with tons of growth potential, though at the time Canadian Internet audiences were less than 40% of what they are today.

Convergence brought on the exciting possibility of integrated media selling and buying and greater opportunities for advertisers. Soon marketers would be able to reach Canadian audiences across a number of different platforms in a seamless, creative and cost-effective way. Convergence also included capturing growing, forward thinking audiences via the “new” Internet medium.

Unfortunately, if you bet on convergence in 2000 as I advised, you would have lost your shirt. A few years after my article appeared, “convergence” became an industry joke and in some circles, a dirty word. The two sides of the marketing coin could not agree on what it meant let alone the benefits a converged media landscape could provide.

The media owners were convinced they would see more money from media buyers as they offered a one-stop, integrated shopping experience. The media buyers were convinced they’d pay less money to media owners, in exchange for shifting a greater percentage of media buy to all of that owner’s holdings. Silos and other structural problems on the side of the sellers did not reward, discount or encourage multi-media selling. Seamless multi-media campaigns with one media owner became challenging as barriers to integration (i.e. media currency, billing systems, trafficking, production and value metrics) existed among both media sellers and buyers.

So all the different media returned to their silos and, as a result, the majority of media companies ended up treating the Internet as a distraction from their core business and shunted it off to the side. It was a medium that was to be dealt with at a later date, when there was more money to be had.

Most media buying companies could not thrive on small, Internet test budgets from clients and treated the medium in the same manner as the media companies. This hindered the growth of the Internet as an advertising vehicle in this country, even though consumers adopted and embraced its usage more than any other country in the world

I will say I was mostly right when I speculated that converging media went beyond consolidated ownership. It also meant bringing content from a number of platforms to the Internet in order to own the audience across media. I referred to it as a “single home media tool” when really it is becoming a single home media pipeline

In my original, rather hopeful article, I speculated that “Canadian TV broadcasters are best positioned to steal the lion’s share of the Internet audience in the short term and become the dominant players of a converged media landscape in the long term.” At the time, I felt the broadcasters had the content that would best be suited for the Internet. Television programmers knew how to capture and grow audiences and deal with changes to the schedule on the fly. They defined taste and could offer viewers an enhanced television viewing Internet experience. Even twelve years ago, ABC was offering home audiences “enhanced” viewing by providing more content and interaction to home viewers through the web for shows like Monday Night Football and Who Wants to be a Millionaire as was MuchMusic here in Canada.

Remember, this is a time when the majority of Canadians had a dial-up connection, only about half the population had a computer at home and almost no one had a flat screen TV. Still, at that time, some of my colleagues and I speculated that all media, particularly TV and Internet media would come to the home on one “home media tool”, like a web-enabled television or a television enabled PC.

And there I was half-right.

Little did we know that the device made little difference and that the delivery of all content delivered to consumers via the Internet (books, magazines, music, news, movies, television) would be device, and even location, agnostic (TV, laptop, tablet, phone_. I was also half right about the content. Certainly broadcasters have, and had, more desired content (video) than say, a print publisher, but their expertise in aggregating audiences, has its limitations in a fragmenting broadcast universe. It will definitely be challenged as consumers move to media consumption on-demand offered by Netflix, Hulu, Broadcasters, YouTube, cable and satellite providers, Sony, Microsoft and other sources.

So what does the future of media buying look like when everyone is watching what they want, when they want?

I believe that in the very near future, three key elements will influence the way audiences connect to our advertiser’s messages.

1 – Content integration. If control of the content is in the hands of the consumer, media buyers must go to the content producers and find authentic, non-intrusive ways to either be integrated into the content or become the hero brand that actively connects consumers to valued and relevant content.

2 – Social Media. Social media connects like-minded communities and provides a wealth of data about those audiences. As content is increasingly consumed on demand, at the convenience of the consumer, social media creates mavens and arbiters of taste in parallel to the diminishing role of program directors and broadcast schedulers.

3 – Ad Exchanges – All this data will need to plug into buying and data technology that will aggregate, valuate, buy and traffic inventory, in its various forms, being delivered to people consuming content on a one-to-one basis. The role of ad exchanges in collecting data about consumer behaviour, and their media consumption habits, will become increasingly important in helping us drawing key insights on how audiences connect with our customers’ message in the future.