Barking Up The Right Trees

Go ahead, bring on your jokes.  We’ve heard them all, and we can make better ones when given the opportunity to do so.

Today will be yet another day of reckoning for the troubled Warner Brothers Discovery executives, and our friend Yosemite Zas and his posse will be doing their best to assuage the concerns of investors and critics that Barbie wasn’t a flash in the pan, that consumers really do want to find the HALLOWEEN BAKING CHAMPIONSHIPS in the same place as THE GILDED AGE and that once we can reorganize and let still a few more executives go, all will be right with the world, especially once those pesky actors wise up and get back to work.

Well, executives tend to follow scripts, and it’s people like those who graced the storied Warner Brothers lot yesterday who write them.  But it takes a lot of knowledge and hard work, plus (ideally) tons of practical experience, to be able to craft a narrative.  And it’s at conferences like the Advertising Research Foundation’s  OTT 2023: Navigating the Evolving Media Landscape where such experience and insights are shared, gleaned and picked apart.  And while the option to participate virtually was offered as a concession both to declining travel budgets and caution for many of the East Coast-based folks who tend to populate the Foundation’s agency and brand-centric events, this was a chance for the Foundation to make good on its promise to integrate more of the West Coast community, which also embraces Silicon Beach and Valley and Seattle, to participate and learn more about what is driving the end user to decide what and when they will consume media-wise and how much they are willing to pay for it.  And those that did show up in person, including moi thanks to the graciousness of longtime friends who currently serve as ARF’s senior leadership team, it was a far more ingratiating and impactful experience.

For folks like myself who’ve been at this for a lifetime, it was a welcome chance to see and, for the most part, hug people we’ve known, and to be impressed with the many new folks that have entered this area.  Unlike so many other executives who come from other industries in more combative areas, researchers tend to be inclusive and collegial, and if you’re at a conference like this in person, you certainly have the mindset to be open to hearing what others are saying, especially the ones who are channeling the feedback and insights of the masses.

So for a full day, a parade of companies made presentations, filled with powerpoint slides and video, that to some outside observers may seem tedious but within them lay very telling tales for why so much of the media industry is in chaos.   The simplest and what upon reflection are some of the most obvious insights are often overlooked when bigger picture narratives dominate.

Nielsen let us know not every streaming service is the same when it comes to who watches it, and that finding a lane versus a Walmart-like approach might actually help retention and traction.

A company called DASH reminded us that people are as or more likely to watch something together just after dinner than in what we still call prime time, and they’re just as likely to be watching something on a streaming service as they are JEOPARDY!

The host Warner Brothers Discovery team gave us the sobering reminder than some millennials are now over 40 and that more than half of Gen Z can now legally drink.  If you’re really looking for kids, they’re now called Gen Alpha, and they’re growing up technologically sophisticated and platform-agnostic at an even dizzier rate than those generations did.

An impressive array of vendors who specialize in attention metrics provided some provocative data on what and to what degree viewers emotionally respond to ads and content, and were partticularly harsh on the kind of spots that networks and services tend to produce to hype their portfolios.  For an industry that is despertately looking at advertising as the way to save itself financially, it was a timely reminder that actually producing stuff people respond to with intrigue and surprise, especially when executed uniquely, makes the investment of ad and promo time far more effective, and woe is the lazy marketer that opts to be boring and traditional.

And, finally, on the day’s closing panel, several top network executives were challenged and reminded by the never camera shy Laura Martin of Needham that there are people on the other side of their bosses’ spin who can separate wheat from chaff and are only willing to put up with so much spin and hype before they start advising their shareholders to move on, and it wouldn’t be the worst idea to keep their own resumes fresh.   If nothing else, it got the handful of attention-seekers who were there to deflect and defer, and perhaps to regroup at least in their head that no matter how secure they may seem in their respective positions, the world is watching them, and it’s as demanding as ever.

ARF will soon have these presentations available on their site, and I would encourage anyone seeking details to visit it and let these impressive researchers tell these stories in their own words.  Trust me, they’re as effective as any CEO (some of them are of their own companies, actually) will be.

But being there in person, as any regular consumers of these musings know so well, is a far better experience.  You learn more details and get the chance for off-the-cuff remarks, some of which eventually get shared, though it won’t be today.  You have the chance to meet some fabulous new people and, in my case, actually learn of some true opportunities.  And once alcohol was involved,  you even learn a few things about some vendors you’ve known for years that you might not have imagined, not to mention how much you have in common with someone you would otherwise dismiss as just another nerd. 🙂

So, yep, I’m damn proud to be a supporter of a foundation whose name sounds like a dog’s bark.  We’re alpha dogs, and don’t you forget it!

Until next time…


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