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Are TV Ads an Outdated Concept?


tv marketing

At one time, three major networks commanded the majority of American consumers’ attention each evening. Families tuned in for prime-time shows like Dallas, Friends, and Seinfeld by the millions, with one commercial gaining exposure to viewers around the country.

Times have changed. A top-rated prime-time TV show in 2013 still reaches millions of viewers each week, but consumers watch TV differently than they did 30 years ago. Live shows like the Super Bowl and Oscars can still command top advertising dollars, but those ads also cost well above most businesses’ marketing budgets. Before you consider investing in a prime-time TV ad in your local market, consider these three reasons TV ads may not be as effective as more modern methods, such as social media or e-mail campaigns.


Digital Video Recorders have changed the way America watches TV. In fact, consumers’ viewing habits began shifting with the mass-market release of VCRs in the 80s. No longer are viewers held captive through three minutes of commercials. They can record programs to watch at a later date, zooming through commercials with the click of a button. As much as Nielsen assures you millions of people are watching a TV episode on a given night, Nielsen families are asked to list shows they watch on DVR and online, with no mention of whether or not they viewed the commercials during that space of time. So your prime-time ad may be nothing more than a five-second blip on a family’s screen, courtesy of the fast-forward button.

Online Viewing

Services like Netflix and Hulu have opened up new viewing options for viewers, who now stream video on mobile devices or through devices like Roku and DVD players. As new TVs build streaming options into their basic design, viewers are expected to switch to online streaming in larger numbers than ever.

The biggest problem with streaming shows is that some of the sites, like Netflix, feature no commercials whatsoever. Hulu has its own source of ad revenue that has nothing to do with the money you paid to have your ad aired locally. So sponsoring a top-rated show like How I Met Your Mother will only get your ad in front of the viewers who watch the show live, commercials and all. Those who stream it through CBS’s website or who wait until it’s available on Netflix won’t be exposed to those commercials at all.

Divided Attention

Research has shown that today’s viewers are watching TV with devices in hand, splitting their attention between social media and the TV show in front of them. This doesn’t take into account the number of viewers who are playing games, texting, instant messaging, and even working while watching television shows. If consumers aren’t playing while watching the show itself, chances are the commercial won’t be enough to pull them away from their iPads and smartphones. In fact, if social media is drawing attention away from TV screens, marketers could better invest their time and efforts into reaching out to customers where they’re spending the most time: on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites.

TV ads are expensive, especially during prime time. At one time a local business could reach millions of consumers, but as attention becomes more divided, marketers are beginning to realize modern-day alternatives are not only less expensive, but more effective, as well.