Friday, September 12, 2008, 9:03 AM ET|Posted by Will Richmond
Yesterday's post, "Broadcast Networks' Use of Broadband Video is Accelerating Demise of their Business Model" spurred some great comments on the site, and as usual, a flurry of private emails to me from folks who don't want to comment publicly (this is a recurring VideoNuze phenomenon I've mentioned before...).
Since there's substantial interest in this topic and I thought some of my comments from yesterday needed some clarification, I want to dig in a little further today.
First I want to address the numbers I outlined, especially the benchmark of $1 of ad revenue per viewer per episode that I asserted NBC derives from "Heroes" on-air. I've had some push back that this number is too high and that it more likely is 50-75 cents/viewer/episode. As I refined my assumptions further, I do think I was probably a bit too optimistic, particularly regarding the actual number of ad units NBC sells. I do think all of these numbers are somewhere in the ballpark, but what they actually are on a show-by-show basis is obviously only known only to NBC itself.
That all said, the gap between today's "analog dollars" and the revenue being derived from online distribution (the so-called "digital pennies") may still be pretty close to what I suggested yesterday. That's because I also had push back on my assumption that Hulu is generating an effective CPM of $60 (note, I had characterized that as "generous"). According to some folks, it's possible their eCPM could in fact be closer to $30 - or less. This is all private data, so again, it's really hard to pin this down.
One point I'd like to make again, so nobody's left with any misimpressions: I don't believe networks have been wrong in pursuing online distribution of their shows. I applaud their proactivity. Rather, my problem is that I think the way they've chose to monetize broadband delivery - with such a paucity of ads - is not only under-monetizing and undervaluing their product, but also creating a set of consumer expectations about the online medium that are going to be hard to reverse.
For Hulu to put the equivalent of 1 1/2 minutes of advertising against "Heroes," when NBC can command premium on-air rates for about 20 minutes of ads, strikes me as seriously out of whack. At the risk of sounding anti-consumer, I think Hulu is hurting its parent company's financial interests by over-emphasizing its user experience. The consequences of Hulu's "limited commercial interruptions" policy are really the thesis of yesterday's post: I believe the networks own use of broadband is accelerating the demise of their traditional ad model.
To be clear, I'm not suggesting Heroes on Hulu should carry 20 minutes of ads, but I do think it can carry more than 1 1/2 minutes. As important, its ad model needs to quickly evolve to include better targeting, more engagement, more creative units, etc, to break from a purely CPM-based paradigm. I know that many folks are hard at work on these items.
Net, net, these are incredibly complicated times for networks. As the Portfolio piece says, NBC's Zucker is "unsparingly harsh about the prospects for broadcast television..." And NBC's issues don't end with broadband; as commenters to yesterday's post noted, it's also being buffeted by the effects of DVRs, VOD and fragmentation driven by social networks, mobile and other shifting consumer behaviors.
I love Zucker's sense of honesty and urgency about the network business. I thought NBC's hardheaded approach to obtaining variable pricing from iTunes was terrific. And as many of you know, I think Hulu's site execution has been world-class. But Hulu, NBC, and the other networks must recognize that their current approach to ad-supported broadband delivery is undervaluing their own product and hastening the demise of their traditional P&L.
What do you think? Post a comment now!