Profile: Ira Sussman

Dec 11, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Earlier this fall the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau released a pivotal study that reported good news for the television business: TV works. That’s the sort of finding that TV executives like to hear. Ira Sussman, VP of research and insights for CAB, spearheaded the report, which delved into how people use viewing devices such as the TV, computer, iPod, Sony PlayStation and mobile phone.

The “Which Screen” survey found that while the computer is most often cited by consumers as the one device they can’t live without, most respondents still prefer to watch videos on television and are willing to watch ads as long as 42 seconds, the highest receptivity they have for ads on any device. The findings also suggest that the computer and TV aren’t that competitive-most consumers view the computer primarily as a means to get information rather than something that provides entertainment.

That’s reassuring news for TV executives and advertisers, who are eager for any data that can help guide them on where to spend precious dollars in this new era of video consumption. But TV executives shouldn’t rest on their laurels. Consumers are a fickle crowd and opinions could turn on a dime in a month or a year. Because of that uncertainty, Mr. Sussman said he will check in each year with consumers to assess whether attitudes or usage change over time.

Mr. Sussman developed the study in conjunction with a number of heavy hitters-representatives from media agencies Universal McCann, Zenith, MediaVest and others. The study grew out of requests by agency clients for data to help them decide how much money to move from linear TV to other devices. “There is a lot of content available all over the place. Do consumers care? Where does it fit into their lives? And are all these different screens and availability an interchangeable concept?” he said.

He added, “We all kind of believed TV works. This study helped support agencies in their decisionmaking on where and how to use the other devices and follow the consumers through their lives. But they’re not a replacement for television. They are an additional way of talking to consumers,” he said.

Mr. Sussman’s job is to develop, research and execute proprietary studies on U.S. ad-supported TV and also provide advertisers and agencies with information on how to most effectively use cable TV in their media buys. He has street cred with the agencies because he spent 20 years on the agency side and held research positions at media agencies, including more than eight years at Initiative Media.

“I need to be aware of all of the issues and things that I did from the agency side and not just be a shill for the cable industry,” Mr. Sussman said. “I remind myself it’s not about drinking the Kool-Aid, but keeping in touch with agency research directors, cable guys-keeping in touch with the people who are battling it out and listening to what’s on their minds.”

Though he works for a cable association, he doesn’t view his job as that of a cable advocate. With cable TV accounting for more than half of TV viewing today, he said, his task is to be an advocate for all of TV advertising.

He also serves on more than 10 industry committees, including several with Nielsen. “What I do is aggregate or assimilate and make sure all our members are participating or informed about everything affecting them,” he said.

Mr. Sussman said he is considering a study next year that will evaluate consumer attitudes toward watching shows on digital video recorders versus having all their favorite shows available on-demand.