Broadcast or cable TV. Viewers used to make a big deal over which one they were watching. People were quick to say if a certain program was on cable vs. broadcast TV. I remember back in 1970 or so when Flint, Mich., my hometown, was named a test site for cable in Michigan. Ooh! How the Flintites bragged about having cable to people in other cities around the state.
I don't think there is much of a distinction anymore. Nowadays, most people just say they were looking at Channel 7 or HBO or whatever. TV is TV when it comes to the average viewer, particularly younger people.
But it is a big deal when it comes to attracting advertising dollars. Cable still lags way behind broadcast and spot (local) TV when it comes to loosening automotive marketers' purse strings. According to Competi-tive Media Reporting, cable got an estimated $633 million from auto advertisers last year, compared with $2.3 billion for broadcast TV and $2.4 billion for spot TV. Spot cable gets only about 10 percent of the total dollars that automakers budget toward all local TV stations. A big reason for cable's feeble showing: Far more people still watch broadcast than cable.
Who's watching ads?
One of the biggest defenses for cable made by the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau and its president, Joe Ostrow, is that cable has a more defined audience than broadcast, which makes it easier for auto marketers to target demographic audiences. That argument has only gone so far. So now the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau has commissioned studies to try to determine who is watching and recalling commercials more - cable or broadcast viewers.
After all, that is the key. It shouldn't matter to advertisers how many millions are watching a particular TV show, but how many see and react to that automaker's ad.
The Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau's most recent commercial recall study was released Aug. 1. The random telephone survey, conducted by Nielsen Media Research, included 17,200 adults and was a follow-up to a similar study done earlier this year with 5,800 TV viewers.
The researchers wanted to know:
1. Were the people watching either a network broadcast or network cable TV station?
2. If so, did they watch the commercials at the last commercial break?
3. Could they recall at least one of those spots?
Of the 4,099 respondents who were watching network cable, 65 percent were watching at the break, and 15 percent could recall at least one commercial. There were 6,198 viewers of broadcast; 68 percent were watching at the commercial break, and 14.5 percent could recall at least one spot.
Cable claims parity
The study included seven broadcast and 34 cable stations. Ostrow hailed the results as a victory.
'Broadcast viewers don't have a monopoly on attentive viewers,' he said. 'In fact, ad-supported cable is delivering recall levels on a parity basis with broadcast and has the distinct advantage of being able to finely target desired consumers demographically and geographically.'
But Ostrow fails to mention one thing. Despite the larger number of cable stations included in the study, the size of the broadcast audience still was about one-third larger than the cable audience. However, that's an improvement over the earlier study when the broadcast audience was double the size of cable's.
Another finding from the survey could signal a sorry state for TV in general: Of the 17,200 people contacted, only 60 percent were watching the tube. I'll bet that a few years ago, that percentage would have been much higher.
Kathy Jackson can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]