In the following Q&A, research veteran Steve Leblang discusses his observations of the market impact of recent changes and the future. Steve has more than 28 years of experience at such companies as FOX Cable Networks, Turner Broadcasting and Grey Advertising.
What do you think is the most dramatic change in the industry in the past five years?
SL: The most dramatic change I see is that the control of media consumption lies exclusively with the consumer. Technology and the ability to personalize have evolved to where the way someone gets their news, engages with creative content or develops brand affinity is unique to that person. Companies that can ultimately create a personal connection with an end user are the ones that can thrive in this challenging environment.
How do you compare this period for our industry vs .when you first started in media?
SL: Surprisingly similar. In the early ‘80s, there were the first waves of success of basic cable and independent TV stations. Those were the first signs that the three-network stranglehold on viewing could be challenged. At the same time, the USA Today and, later, the national editions of the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, proved that there was an appetite for a national newspaper in one of the few countries in the world that at that point didn’t have one. Now those foundations are being challenged by more personalization of media, using all of these resources and still newer ones.
Do you see television being as challenged as the newspaper industry is today?
SL: No, because television has not yet been replaced by a superior way to consume product that has captivated the emerging young adult generation in the same way that online content has superceded print. Regardless of how many supplementary ways there are to see video, the overwhelming majority of it is still consumed via the television set, and every objective study conducted in recent years confirms it.
Where do you think the best innovations are coming from: cable, broadcast, gaming, broadband?
SL: All of these entities are contributing to what we see as a collective evolution of innovation that benefits the consumer exclusively. Cable is offering more diversity of content, both in number of networks and quality of the content on those networks. Broadcast still possesses the ability to galvanize millions of people with truly impactful events and is becoming far more interactive with its audience in the process. The gaming industry has a stranglehold on the youth market and through innovative and addictive evolutions, such as Nintendo’s Wii, is broadening that reach substantially. Finally, broadband offers the ultimate personalization of media and dramatic growth in social networking, especially Twitter and Facebook.
Do you see long term success for social networking or do you think it will morph into something else?
The potential Achilles heel of social media is developing a legitimate business model. The online business as a whole is still profiting only a fraction of what the video business makes for a similar number of eyeballs. And for Facebook, Twitter and others, the challenges are greater still.
A large percentage of consumers’ overall time spent online is devoted to personal communication, and social networking is, first and foremost, an extension of that. It is more a replacement for the telephone and letters than it is for entertainment. That said, the impact of the way information is conveyed and news stories are broken online is dramatic enough to know that some business model will work.
Do you think that the advancement of set top box data has the potential to change the marketplace for television audience measurement?
Without question. Pure and simple. More sample points increase the accuracy and usability of data, whether it’s second-by-second usage, or hundreds of networks or millions of video streams. I’m all for anything that provides more information, as well as for the ability of those who can dissect and discern from it what is truly meaningful.
What’s your involvement in the CTAM research community?
SL: My involvement, which included stints as chairman of the Research Committee and co-chairman of the 2006 Research Conference, afforded me unique opportunities to be part of signature studies and collaborative efforts involving the most dedicated research minds in the industry, as well as the perspectives of peers and clients not typically available in an insular corporate environment. For example, our cross-platform tracking study and deeper analysis of three-screen adoption and segmentation, provided critical, objective insights to inform business decisions that would have otherwise not been either affordable or available
Give me three predictions for the next five years.
SL: My first prediction is that the economy will turn around, people will regain some (but not all) of their confidence and buying power. But the evolution of the savvier Millennials into mainstream young adulthood will make it far harder for companies to get them to part with their hard-earned dollars.
Secondly, the ability to accurately measure cross-media exposure and experience via multi-platform homes will give a much more “real” picture of how and when media is consumed. It will put into true perspective the impact each has on the other.
Finally (and somewhat parochially), there will be growing need for intelligent, diverse people in place, to both articulate and be in the best position to recommend best practices from this expanded information portfolio. This should mean that the opportunities for those who can do so will grow in tandem with the growth of available information.
What has been your most accurate and least accurate prediction in the past?
SL: Most accurate is that a basic cable network that adopted the quality and mindset of a pay network could reach unprecedented levels of success. Least accurate is that a small little summer import show called “Pop Idol” [renamed "American Idol" in the U.S.] would be no more successful than “Star Search,” particularly since it was forcing people to pay to vote on their phones as opposed to letting them vote online.
(This is excerpted from a full video interview with Steve available on WeislerMedia. It was conducted by Charlene Weisler, a research veteran, member of the Set Top Box Collaborative executive committee, the CTAM Research and Research Planning Committees and a CIMM consultant. She can be reached through her blog www.WeislerMedia.blogspot.com or at WeislerMedia@yahoo.com).