November 2005 - Per Inquiry

Losing Our Religion

Amid conjecture attempting to explain why infomercial results are steadily declining, a lack of innovative products, media fragmentation and rates typically attract the harshest scrutiny among the line-up of usual suspects. But the fact is, exactly how consumers find our paid programs has always been a bit of a mystery. Logic suggests that there are two primary ways viewers find infomercials. One, they tune into a preferred channel or network looking for something else when-violá!-they discover your magnum opus on a hand blender and stick around for the dénouement we fondly refer to as the call to action. The second way is via the happy accident known as channel surfing. According to this theory, a viewer with the attention span of my schipperke taking in the scents of the local dog park is suddenly brought to a grinding halt by something as spectacular as, let’s say, a ladder you can use on stairs that costs over $300.

But as REM once sang, “It’s the end of the world as we know it…”- though I’m not sure anyone is feeling fine. Why? Because, as electronic programming guides (EPGs) continue their march into digital television households, the manner in which consumers navigate TV fundamentally changes forever. In the process, we are getting left in the dust. EPGs are menu-driven guides that break programming down into neat little categories such as “movies,” “sports” and “religion.” When you click on a category, a list of current programs is served up and can be navigated effortlessly, instantly satisfying a viewer’s appetite for a particular type of entertainment. If you jump to a show and it isn’t exactly what you had in mind, similar programming surrounds your selection, so a viewer’s surfing tends to be restricted to a limited range.

When you combine this phenomenon with limitless choice and technology that conspires to eliminate advertising altogether, it suggests that unless we do something about the situation, those of us who make a career out of infomercials may be going the way of the milkman, who no doubt has fond memories. I’d just like to see us keep ours in the present and future.

So what can we do? For one, get “home shopping,” which includes not only the TV shopping networks, but all paid programs as well, listed as a category on the EPGs so that our consumers have a fighting chance of finding our version of “religion.” Just imagine the marketing opportunity presented by being able to come up with a title for your paid program to entice viewers (i.e., “Hope for a hidden problem!”). At the recent ERA Annual Convention in Las Vegas, the industry clearly grasped the reality that ours is a multi-channel universe.

Yet, DRTV still acts as the dominant hub that many of the other spokes of an integrated program run off of and rely on to maintain their vitality. As the aphorism suggests, adapt or die. Can I get a witness?

Rick Petry, a partner with Downstream, is a consultant to the direct marketing industry. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].


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