Home ownership of television sets is down for the first time, according to “advance” and “preliminary” data from Nielsen. Using U.S. Census data, the company estimates that household television set penetration will have dropped a full two percentage points — from 98.9 percent now to 96.7 percent in 2012.
It’s a stunning development that suggests any company using TV advertising had best start thinking hard about how to adapt its messages for an online audience.
Cutting the cord, plugging into the Net
Although the information is preliminary, it certainly feels right. Observe how younger people watch video. They often go straight to a computer and hop on Hulu or YouTube. Which is an earthquake itself, because it means that people aren’t just walking away from cable or satellite subscriptions, but the TVs themselves.
“Consumers are viewing more video content across all platforms — rather than replacing one medium with another,” Nielsen said in an announcement sent to clients around 10 p.m. (ET) Monday night. It added that “a small subset of younger, urban consumers seem to be going without paid TV subscriptions for the time being.” As the Nielsen study said:
While Nielsen data demonstrates that consumers are viewing more video content across all platforms — rather than replacing one medium with another — a small subset of younger, urban consumers seem to be going without paid TV subscriptions for the time being. The long-term effects of this are still unclear, as it is undetermined if this is also an economic issue that will see these individuals entering the TV marketplace once they have the means, or the beginning of a larger shift to online viewing.
Call it unclear if you want. I’d say it’s another sign of — brace yourself — the convergence of television and online video. Aside from what that potentially means for the actual producers of video, it has some huge implications for video advertising tactics, according to experts I’ve recently spoken with:
- New formats — As viewing habits cross between televisions, computers, tablets, and smartphones, screen sizes and proportions change. You can’t film once and expect to convert on the fly to other formats, particularly as any such conversion could unexpectedly impact the meaning of the images.
- Length — Online, the optimum length of video ads seems closer to 15 seconds than 30, let alone 60. Ads have to be constructed carefully to allow editing for shorter versions, or else advertisers have to create separate material for online use.
- Sound — You can’t count on people watching online video to have the sound on when an ad runs. That means the visuals have to be able to carry the ad’s message by themselves.
- Color — If a web site’s color scheme is too close to that of the ad, the video might effectively fade into the background.
- Supporting programming — Ads don’t exist by themselves online. You can overlay material, have surrounding text messages, or include visual hotspot links, for example. An ad becomes more than the audio and video alone.
These tactical changes require significantly different approaches to creating ads, and that need will only grow, even if people do keep their television sets, so long as they start watching video entertainment on aan increasingly diverse set of devices.