So here is something I bet you didn’t know. There is a law against airing false information on TV. OK, so it’s technically not a law – it’s an FCC rule – and it doesn’t apply to cable TV since that’s not an over the air medium like TV or radio. Those latter media are prohibited from broadcasting false information about a crime or a catastrophe if the broadcaster knows the information is false and will cause substantial “public harm” if aired. With respect to other news, The FCC is prohibited by law from engaging in censorship or infringing on First Amendment rights of the press. It is, however, illegal for broadcasters to intentionally distort the news, and the FCC may act
on complaints, if there is documented evidence of such behavior from persons with direct personal knowledge.
That’s one reason why you can generally trust things you hear and see on broadcast outlets rather than cable or streaming outlets. It also makes me wonder why the same sort of standard isn’t governing the plethora of made-up misinformation that surrounds us. What got me thinking about this today is all of the reporting about Facebook’s failures when it comes to fighting misleading posts on their platform. They say it’s in the name of free speech. I think it’s in the name of commerce.
Several advertisers have suspended or ended their spending on Facebook and other social media over this issue as well as the proliferation of hate speech. Is it really a problem? Um, have you been on Facebook or Twitter? The latter at least is attempting to deal with the issue. Facebook isn’t, other than paying lip service to the idea of cleaning up their sewer. But as this article and this one point out, they’re failing because they really don’t seem to be trying.
Is it more than unsavory speech with which we’re dealing? Yes, it is. Say I spend a lot of money targeting voters who I think will vote against me with a very realistic looking ad saying that the election has been delayed a week due to the pandemic in an effort to suppress your vote? Maybe I pay to put up a number of posts saying that the police are strip-searching all voters when they enter the polls? If you’ve paid any attention at all to what happened in the last national election, you know that there were many groups, both American and foreign, who did things along those lines. I’m pretty sure that’s not the kind of free speech the founders had in mind.
So I think there ought to be a law very similar to the rules that broadcasters live by. Knowingly disseminating false information should be penalized, and repeat offenders should do more than pay fines. When I worked in TV, losing a license was always in the back of our minds. Maybe it’s time that we de-platformed the folks who are polluting the political and other discourses even if it means shutting down a huge business like Facebook. After all, in their day, TV stations were pretty big businesses too. What do you think?
We’re into that time of the year when corporations are reporting their results for the last quarter. I tend to look at any single quarter’s results as a data point and since I’m a believer in watching things through the lens of the long-term, I mostly ignore anything strongly negative or positive unless it’s part of a long-term trend.
I’m sure it’s not a shock to any of you that the cable TV provider business is in a downward trend. I’ve written about this before and you might be one of the millions of folks who have cut their cable cord and gone pure streaming or supplement your streaming with an HD antenna to get your local TV over the air (everything old is new again!). Charter Communications is one of those cable TV providers who is watching their user base deteriorate. This last quarter, the company’s video customers sank by 150,000 subscribers, now totaling 15.8 million. At the same time, their Internet customers grew 221,000 to a total of 24.2 million, which also mirrors what’s going on elsewhere and the aforementioned trends. At the same time, these distributors are getting hit with increased costs for programming – what the cable networks charge the delivery guys to carry their programming (and in theory, the availability of which is why people pay for cable in the first place).
What the CEO said in making the results announcement, however, doesn’t mirror other CEO’s thinking and that’s what I want to highlight today:
Asked why the company doesn’t raise prices to cover increased programming costs, CEO Tom Rutledge said, “If you do a 10% programming price increase and lose 10% of your customers, you don’t really get anywhere and yet you’ve alienated a lot of people. In fact, that’s actually happening and has been happening. I expect continuous fighting for the foreseeable future.”
Mr. Rutledge gets it. He is not confusing a symptom (customer loss amid increasing costs) with the disease (a rapidly changing business model reflecting consumer resentment at the high monthly out of pocket costs). Rasing prices would, in my opinion, accelerate the negative trend. It would stabilize earnings and make investors happy in the short term, but it’s not sustainable and would ultimately result in disaster.
More of us in business need to think that way. What’s a symptom and what’s the disease it reflects? What’s the right play for the long term even if it hurts in the short term? Does that make sense?
I’ve been thinking about writing this rant for a few weeks now. I’ve refrained, hoping that what’s prompting it will go away but it hasn’t so today, I rant.
I spent nearly my entire professional career in some sort of advertising-related business. I sold media. I was a media publisher. I’ve bought advertising on behalf of consulting clients and my own businesses. I’m pretty well-acquainted with how the business works. It’s rare, therefore, that something ad-related surprises me but this has. Lincoln is running an ad called “Sanctuary” for its Navigator vehicle. It features Sarah Vaughan’s recording of “Make Yourself Comfortable,” a song I like from an artist I like as well. At least I used to.
I will be the first to admit that I don’t watch a ton of non-news or sports programming via traditional TV. You can pretty much find me on a news channel or sports channel if it’s old-school TV or a streaming service otherwise. I bring this up because what I’m about to rant about isn’t caused by my rapacious consumption of TV.
I have seen the aforementioned ad at least once every half hour for the last month. In fact, I’ve seen it far more often than that, often once every few commercial pods. I am now at the point where when I hear the thunderclap that begins the ad I reach for the remote. I am sick of the song. I have so tuned out the ad that I didn’t even notice that it’s Serena Williams sitting in the car. I could see this happening if I was on a ton of channels in lots of different programming but I’m not. I’m about 10 more impressions from setting fire to the next Lincoln I see.
Who do I blame? Let’s see. First, the media buying agency who apparently has never heard of frequency-capping. When your ad is running every 10-20 minutes FOR HOURS on the same channel you’re well into overkill. Second, I blame whoever sold this schedule. Maybe it’s a ROS deal (run of schedule/station) and they’re just filling pods with creative to run up the bill. You might be making a few bucks but you’re losing at least this loyal viewer. Third, I blame the client. Aren’t you looking at the reports? Aren’t you running research that tells you reach isn’t increasing while frequency is off the charts? For the love of all that is holy – make another commercial – you’re killing me.
OK, I feel better. But if you’re a marketer and you’re not asking your people about frequency distributions and commercial wear out, do yourself and your prospective customers a favor: ask ASAP. Deal?