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Hold that thought

Opinion

Hold that thought

Media experts have a way of predicting or at least forecasting what’s to come. Inevitably, this leads to the question: “What  will change in the next five years?” My answer is, “Not much.” And this is received with a mix of curiosity and some suspicion. Allow me to explain: we will not witness a massive shift from typewriters to computers like we did in the ’90s; we won’t be washed over by the wave of e-mails that made us ditch our fax machines; we won’t even witness another social media burst like the one sparked by Facebook in 2007. All of this was built on the back of real innovation. While web and mobile marketing will continue to flourish and we will witness a lot of flashy gadgets and charmed contraptions, most of them will be short-lived.

Our problem – as consumers and marketers – is that we attach too much importance to enormous, flashy or loud consequences. Anything noiseless or unseen gets demoted in our minds. Our brains picture extraordinary outcomes more readily than ordinary ones. If something is repeated often enough, it gets stored in our heads and we start to believe it, even if not true. We overestimate the risk of being a victim of a plane crash and underestimate the risk of dying from diabetes, smoking or depression (killer apps). We think dramatically, not quantitatively.

Real innovation, on the other hand – such as TV or radio – has survived for almost 76 years now and is not going away any time soon. For instance, in the US, free-to-air (FTA) TV still reaches a majority of the population. A key demographic that has inspired a sense of caution – and even enigma – among marketers, traditional TV advertisers and media planning and buying experts are the 18 to 24-year-olds, who consume FTA TV for 2.2 hours every day. Cable TV is healthy too, but dropping in favor of online streaming services such as Netflix, although they remain niche.

So what has changed? It is the mindset – not of the consumers, but of the marketers. While digital is important, it cannot replace all other media channels. However, increasingly, marketers are starting to believe that online is the magic bullet for all their communications. The argument is that the FTA TV consumption of 18- to 24-year-olds has dropped from 3.2 to 2.2 hours over the past four years. Yes, but 2.2 hours is not a small amount of the consumers’ time – especially when delivering a message that’s only 30-seconds long. And TV isn’t dying alone, it seems. As a top marketer of a leading bank recently pointed out: “Facebook is dying; subscription growth of Facebook had stopped at 5.2 million last year in the UAE and is not growing further.” So, by the same logic that’s applied to TV, if Facebook is dying, let’s stop using it. But aren’t we all dying? Biologically, the human dying process begins at birth and the clock starts ticking backwards. Again, by the same logic, we should not pursue education, careers or relationships.

Frankly, online streaming is not likely to succeed FTA TV in the next five years. It needs at least ten years to evolve. While the UAE and KSA are catching up with the US and Europe in adoption of technology, there are 22 other Arab countries that are still crawling toward change. This change isn’t only technological – infrastructure, economy, geopolitics…all of these play a part. In the Middle East, FTA TV can easily reach 30 million people with just one leading program. A 30-second commercial on such a program will cost approximately $15,000. Now to reach the same 30 million people – or views – on YouTube, how much would it cost? Especially considering that you’re paying per view. Spoiler: It is easily way more than $15,000.

So, the next time someone asks you for a prediction, there’s not much reason to peer into the crystal ball. You could just hold up a mirror.

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