TV is not dying – it’s lies, damn lies and bad media statistics

TV is not dying – it’s lies, damn lies and bad media statistics

My new column is live at The Drum:

It’s the first rule in propaganda: If you want people to believe a lie, then just repeat it over and over again.

For some 15 years, marketers have been subjected to constant reports that commercial TV will soon ‘die’. They started by blaming TiVo and commercial skipping before moving to cord-cutting millennials who prefer Netflix and then citing the reported swing today of advertising dollars from offline to online. Call me crazy, but ad-supported television still seems to be around. Something does not add up.

In the past few weeks, the industry has seen yet another flood of breathless, urgent warnings and allegedly important studies. Here are just a few:

● An AdAge column by The Palmer Group chief executive Shelly Palmer argued that “TV may actually die soon”.

● ReFUEL4 marketing manager Alexis Ng wrote in a column in The Drum that “the death of traditional advertising is real”.

● A report from Google found that younger Singaporeans prefer YouTube to television as the online video platform itself plans to produce.

Please excuse the hard-boiled exterior that I still have as a journalist who later went into marketing: for people who are also supposed to be cynics, marketers are surprisingly susceptible to believing bad data and people with conflicts of interest.

Palmer’s agency focuses on “augmented intelligence and data-driven decision making” — and not on television. Moreover, his column made assertions without offering any proof. Writing an opinion column without supporting evidence is as useful as Kendall Jenner giving a Pepsi to police officers in riot gear.

Ng’s company sells social media advertisements that are purportedly designed by human beings and automated with artificial intelligence. The business has an interest in casting a shadow on television as a useful medium. If a company that sells widgets argues that not-widgets are bad, I am always skeptical.

Please also excuse my eye-rolling when the company that owns YouTube puts out a study stating that YouTube is preferred over TV. The report and accompanying press release do not explain the study’s specific methodology — and that’s where things always get dodgy.

(Free journalism advice: always follow the money to see who is really in charge, look at the fine print of any business deal, and read the methodology of any study. And wear sunscreen.)

Google’s data point: “89% of internet users visit YouTube each month.” Well, I want to know what ‘visit’ means. Does it include anyone who watched even one second of one video one time per month? If so, then that percentage looks a lot less impressive.

One of the biggest falsehoods in the marketing echo chamber is that television is ‘dead’ — and that lie is usually spread by companies with something to gain or people who do not bother to research what the good data actually says. People keep repeating the propaganda over and over again.

Read the rest at The Drum!

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