On Atomizing Your Business Model: The TV Industry

Additional food for thought for yesterday’s blog post on atomizing your business model: this Fortune magazine interview with Irwin Gotlieb, CEO of GroupM (a media-buying company owned by WPP Group) details a portion of their strategy regarding future business models for television.

GroupM Logos

Last spring, for example, he crafted a $1 million pact with NBC Universal that changed the age-old model of how TV ads are bought: The bigger the hit, the more you pay. With DVRs allowing people to skip commercials, Gotlieb decided that a show’s popularity no longer mattered. He told NBC executives that he would pay based on who was watching the commercials. It was a controversial move, but again competitors adopted the new system. Rino Scanzoni, GroupM’s chief investment officer, who negotiated the deal, credits his boss. “He was saying, ‘Digital video recorders are being incorporated in set-top boxes. Television is going digital by 2009. What impact will that have on our business, now and in five years?’ ” says Scanzoni. “This is something we needed to do to get ahead and drive the change.”

As the line between the web and TV blurs, viewers will have even more control over what they watch. Inevitably that’ll mean watching fewer commercials, and Gotlieb knows it. So while spending money on increasingly dear (and often unwatched) spots in “Lost” and “The Office,” he also wants to own the shows themselves to figure out new ways to infuse them with ads. That’s why he started GroupM Entertainment, a throwback to the 1950s, when shows like The “Colgate Comedy Hour” dominated primetime, to create everything from rock concerts to TV series. In March, GroupM Entertainment produced “October Road,” a series that aired after “Grey’s Anatomy” and has been picked up for another year. (In exchange, ABC gave GroupM discounted ad slots to pass along to clients.) It also produced “Dr Pepper Band in a Bubble,” an MTV reality show. The goal isn’t to turn TV shows into run-on commercials. But having a hand in content creation gives GroupM a better idea of what types of shows will be hits – not to mention first dibs on prime ad buys. “The Digital Age requires advertisers not to interrupt content but to create it,” says Peter Tortorici, a former president of CBS Entertainment. “Programming only works if people really enjoy it and keep coming back.”

What it means: I note a few insights in those two paragraphs. First, the fact that GroupM has been very proactive in trying to reinvent the TV business model even though they’re not a TV network. Maybe the distance helps to craft more innovative ideas. The second insight is the introduction of a performance-based model for TV in a DVR world. I believe we will see those models launched in every traditional media vehicles. The third insight is the blurring of the line between editorial and advertising content. The smaller the content atom becomes, the closer the advertising atom gets to its “cousin”. As a consequence, I think we will see more and more conflicts in the future between editorial and advertising. Will society be mature enough to discriminate between these two?

2 thoughts on “On Atomizing Your Business Model: The TV Industry

  1. Hi there. I completely agree with your point. At some instance in time the users have come to expect ads in print, tv, web as necessary evils to get to the content desired. Poor CTRs show that ad systems have to evolve to a point of user acceptance. Once this moves from web to IPTV, it is critical that the lines between content and advertising blur to appeal to the user and to provide the relevant information the user seeks. This is the basis of our solution at overlay.tv and how we see tv evolving.

  2. Hi there. I completely agree with your point. At some instance in time the users have come to expect ads in print, tv, web as necessary evils to get to the content desired. Poor CTRs show that ad systems have to evolve to a point of user acceptance. Once this moves from web to IPTV, it is critical that the lines between content and advertising blur to appeal to the user and to provide the relevant information the user seeks. This is the basis of our solution at overlay.tv and how we see tv evolving.

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