Reach or Frequency Debate

Apr 14, 2003  •  Post A Comment

The tip of the spear for cable in this year’s pre-upfront battles with broadcast for advertiser dollars looks to be a new analytic tool that purports to refute scientifically the broadcast proposition that cable is a frequency medium while broadcast offers reach.
That broadcast-reach argument underlies much of the rationale for the premiums that advertisers pay to buy time on the broadcast networks.
Cable’s analytic attack on broadcast’s reach is the newly created Turner Multidimensional Analytical Platform [T-MAP], developed in a collaboration of Turner’s corporate research group, Nielsen Media Research and Multimedia Solutions and unveiled recently in Manhattan by Turner Broadcasting sales and research executives.
T-MAP is the third and latest iteration of Turner’s Media at the Millennium initiative, which is intended to make the argument that “schedules containing high levels of fully distributed national cable dispersed across the prime-time daypart can replace broadcast with no loss in reach and no increase in frequency,” according to Barry Fischer, Turner’s executive VP of marketing and research.
What makes Millennium III unique is the Pentium 4 chip inside, which increases computational power exponentially, permitting complex calculations about specific multi-network advertising flights to take seconds, not days, Mr. Fischer said.
“What they’re offering is essentially a new piece of software that will allow you to do reach and frequency manipulation more rapidly, that will allow people to experiment with different scheduling options in a more efficient manner,” said David Poltrack, executive VP of research and planning for CBS Television. “But it’s not a breakthrough in terms of any new way to measure the medium or any new way to measure advertising impact.
“Most of this work has been done to a large degree by the more sophisticated advertisers in the slower fashion,” he added.
At the end of last week, Turner began to take T-MAP, a tool designed primarily for planners and researchers, to agencies. The Turner argument is that there is a drastic overdependence on broadcast, which results in astronomical costs for tiny incremental increases in reach points. Those additional reach points also could be realized-at multimillion-dollar savings, in some cases-by substituting fully distributed cable networks. “Know the cost of running up that [reach] curve, because it is an incredibly expensive neighborhood,” Mr. Fischer said, illustrating his proposition with charts that showed specific individual spots in specific advertising schedules. When, say, two-thirds of the desired gross rating points in an advertising schedule have been achieved by advertising on broadcast networks, the cost of additional incremental broadcast reach could rise to $4 million and more per spot, he said.
“Are those last few broadcast reach points really worth $2 [million], $3 [million], $4 million? That’s the issue,” Mr. Fischer said, “not whether [to] buy broadcast or not.”
“There’s a law of diminishing returns in everything,” Mr. Poltrack said. The broadcast counter to the Turner T-MAP thrust is to cite the “recency” model of TV advertising effectiveness. “You want to get your exposures to the average consumer as close to the point of purchase as possible,” Mr. Poltrack said, who contended that some advertisers will want to add frequency on a reach medium like broadcast to reach viewers multiple times over a short term. “It’s not enough to reach everyone in the country one time,” he said. “You’ve got to reach everyone in the country on a regular basis in order to maintain your advertising intensity.”
Mr. Poltrack emphasized that T-MAP would only be an effective planning tool if it included syndication. “Most advertisers that have a big enough budget to reach the level of diminishing returns that Turner is talking about are currently involved in network television, cable television and syndicated television.”
The T-MAP argument “serves [Turner’s] purposes very beautifully, but I’d like to see the raw data,” said Moira Coffey, chief researcher for Viacom-owned King World, when told of the T-MAP-based contentions that broadcast is no longer simply reach and cable is no longer simply frequency and that broadcast’s incremental reach points are not cost effective.
Some broadcast spots become “95 percent frequency,” Mr. Fischer said. “Find a client who believes that his broadcast spots are 95 percent frequency,” he added. “Find a client who says, `I buy broadcast for frequency’ and `I buy premium broadcast at premium frequency,’ and then let me know and then let me present [the data].” What affects broadcast reach are diminished ratings, increased repeats and multiplays, he said.
“I think they’re ignoring the [importance] of frequency,” Ms. Coffey said of the Turner argument. “It’s also a very, very vital component of the success of the advertiser message. … You can see a spot once and have it not have an impact. By the fourth time you know the name of the prescriptive drug.”
With T-MAP, “We are now able to quickly identify those specific networks or announcements [i.e., commercial spots] that bring little or no incremental reach to a client’s schedule,” Mr. Fischer said. Some clients don’t understand, he said, that added broadcast spots deliver frequency, not reach, and that they are paying too much for frequency alone.