The Death of TV Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

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By: Ronald C. Pruett, Jr., Chief Executive Officer, Mercury Media

CNN, Fox, and MSNBC are in a death struggle for viewers. The Deadliest Catch has everyone hooked. Pam Anderson has legged her way through Dancing With The Stars and that Final Four tournament people are still talking about was the most watched in history, just six weeks after the Super Bowl was the highest-rated football game in history.

Wasn’t TV dying?

Clearly it’s not. While marketers are adjusting some of their spending to take advantage of mobile, digital video, and branded content I don’t see much wholesale migration of dollars. And I can’t find anyone who predicts that kind of migration anymore. TV has been killed, buried, resurrected, and beat up again but it’s still the only media that consistently attracts scalable audiences that deliver high-speed ROI. Direct response TV is showing that same kind of steely resolve.

Let’s look at some numbers to support these developments. As James Poniewozik wrote recently in Time Magazine, “each generation of media has an oedipal relationship with the last. New technologies are born — radio, TV, the Internet — and either kill what came before or render it less relevant. Just so for years, the story of big-network TV has been how it’s slowly losing out to cable, video games and the Web. But a funny thing has been happening with big TV events of late: they have been dramatically and conspicuously not dying. The 2010 Super Bowl was the most watched U.S. TV show ever, surpassing the finale of M*A*S*H. This year’s Olympics far outrated the 2006 Games. The Emmys, Grammys and Golden Globes all increased, and on March 7, about 41 million people watched the Oscars, 5 million more than last year.”

What was that “funny thing?” I’m going to argue content and audience. Very simply the mass events on TV cannot be replicated by other media. But for direct response marketers I would argue that another side effect happens from these mass events. Viewers are watching more TV and they‘re more engaged. We have a white paper on the topic that illustrates this. But I have other evidence. I see the results of campaigns we run with clients such as that reached the right TV audience at exactly the right time with a tested offer and efficient media. DRTV is proof positive not only that TV still works, it’s proof that TV is not about mass events. Specific audiences can be found. TV is still about the audience and the magic of that media.

At some point, I’m sure there will be a new round of punditry about the lack of accountability or targeting for TV. But for DRTV, this won’t hold much truth. Bet on the Super Bowl or your office pool for American Idol. I wouldn’t bet against TV.

Ronald C. Pruett, Jr. is Chief Executive Officer of Mercury Media.  Prior to joining Mercury Media, Pruett was the Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Polymedica/Liberty Medical, the largest publicly traded diabetic supply company and one of the largest multichannel direct response marketers in the country. The company was sold to Medco Health Solutions.  Pruett has extensive experience in the creation, acquisition, and management of direct to consumer marketing companies in the US and abroad.

Contact him at


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