Living the Stream


I’m lucky enough to have my parents spend a part of each week with me. They babysit my daughter on Wednesdays, making the trip from Long Island on Tuesday night and leaving after my wife and I get home from work the following night.

In that 24-hour period, they consume a lot of television. They watch some combination of Disney cartoons (Mickey Mouse Clubhouse is on my daughter’s shortlist of favorites) to horse racing (my dad has an obsession with the sport) to dramas (Murder, She Wrote is still a go-to for my mom).

They can watch whatever they want through my cable provider, and they don’t have to stretch far into the technological world to do so. Even though they are more than capable of firing up the Apple TV and browsing the apps to find a show that they like, my mom still has a habit of saying, “Did you tape NCIS tonight?” rather than reference the DVR or the notion of “recording” the program. If it were up to them, Betamax would be the way to go.

Digital platforms have taken live viewing away from linear television for a majority of younger viewers, and a not-insignificant sample of older ones. Even the DVR isn’t used as it was only a year ago. The idea of binge-watching your favorite program is a time-efficient way to catch up on a program, as opposed to waiting a week to watch a new episode. Netflix and Hulu offer customers the chance to consume an entire “season” in one sitting, and the model has proven so successful that cable networks such as TBS have followed suit. Gone are the days when broadcast and cable set the trends; streaming services now have all the power and money.

With Twitter showing the world that the public wants to stream NFL and other professional games, digital platforms are going into the next round of sports contracts with guns blazing. When NFL, MLB, and NBA contracts run out over the next few years, platforms such as Amazon and Hulu are going to throw any amount of money they can at the rights to high-priced, high-demand sports programming. Already suffering from subscriber losses, networks such as ESPN may find this to be the final nail in the coffin.

As platforms and media change the way we view content, the way agencies and clients look at audiences and prospects has to change, as well. You can’t take a wait-and-see attitude on addressable and programmatic advertising, and if you underestimate or deny the impact and popularity of Hulu and Amazon, you’ll risk missing an opportunity to reach a valuable audience. And if you put all of your dollars into linear cable, you’ll likely overpay for an audience that isn’t there.

If you put all of your dollars into linear cable, you’ll likely overpay for an audience that isn’t there.

But the digital movement reaches far beyond content and audience. It’s a new arena in which marketers can play.

A mantra I’ve adopted in the last few years is “stalking the consumer.” It means I try to make sure that my ad dollars are working as hard as they possibly can to reach as many prospective customers as possible. It’s been a long time since I’ve placed a buy that didn’t include digital and on-demand versions of the content. The dollars are not infinite, but they are spread among all platforms where that content airs in order to reach the maximum audience.

As more consumers cut their cable and satellite subscriptions for streaming services such as Sling TV and DirecTV NOW, following them with dollars is the only way for direct response marketers to reach people with products. General advertisers already know this.

For now, live sports are still a safe haven for DR marketers on linear television, and the summer months offer lots of sports that will help hold off the digital barrage. The MLB season is in full swing, meaning that regional sports networks as well as FOX, MLB, and ESPN will have plenty to offer through the third quarter.

In September, NFL football will make its way back into our hearts and televisions. But there will be plenty of games that can be watched on digital platforms, as the NFL remains the vanguard in developing audiences outside the linear scope.

News networks continue to draw huge numbers compared to previous years, and the trends promise to continue as the nation goes about its business. The increases in viewership that Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC have enjoyed on the linear front means that their inventory is becoming much more valuable to the marketer; get it while you can.

The end of the summer brings the beginning of the “traditional” broadcast season, with network programming starting mid-September. While programs such as these are usually reserved for the upfront general advertiser, there are areas in which DR marketers can enjoy the influx of viewers if they are willing to put some money down on the premieres. Take care to not ignore digital broadcasts of the same shows, since viewers will be there, too.

As my parents age, I will have to retrain them on how to access the programming they like. But if none of the streaming services offer every episode of Murder, She Wrote, I might just end up losing my babysitters.