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(MediaPost.com) - In 1990, cable TV was growing and media agency executives were incorporating cable channels such as CNN, A&E, ESPN, MTV and Discovery into their national television buys. Buyers moved dollars into cable to keep CPMs low and to follow the audience that was embracing the new content. Less than 10 percent of a television budget would go to cable at the time.
Fast-forward 20 years later and ad spending on cable TV networks has grown to more than $21.1 billion — and cable accounts for almost 60 percent of all television viewing. The not-so-long tail of television grew significantly over the past two decades as new cable channels launched with everything from sitcom reruns, movies, cooking shows, reality TV franchises and more variations on news reporting.
Today, advertisers have hundreds of cable channels to place their messages. “Niche” networks like AMC can have the biggest telecast for any drama series in basic cable history among total viewers with the “Walking Dead,” while Fox News Channel can set new viewership records with a presidential debate. Television’s long tail of content has been embraced by media buyers because it was embraced by consumers who saw value in the growing and diversified choices of programming.
TV buyers had to make extensive changes to their media management systems to accept the thousands of 30-second commercial units that were necessary to advertise across cable networks. They had to reconfigure audience measurements to acknowledge the niche — yet valuable — cable viewers. They had to expand their stewardship and bill/pay processes to handle the magnitude of invoices created by advertising across many more networks and programs.
The industry made these changes because it was necessary to capture the value of the growing mid-tail of television. After top-tier large audience cable networks such as TBS and USA, there are a growing number of channels in the middle that represent loyal audiences due to appealing niche content. Networks such as Bravo, AMC, Food Network and TLC all fit within the mid-tail of cable television. It’s actually pretty simple: Consumers follow the best media content choices. Advertisers follow consumers. Agencies deliver for their clients.
Today we are looking at the same scenario being played out in the digital media marketplace but on a much greater scale. After a buyer negotiates with the top five to six sites such as Google, Yahoo, AOL, MSN and Facebook, there are thousands of mid-tail sites to consider for a brand.
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