Ahmad Izham Omar
Oct 28, 2015

In defense of linear TV

Reports of the demise of 'old-fashioned' TV has been greatly exaggerated.

Ahmad Izham Omar
Ahmad Izham Omar

Whenever there’s a shakeup or a new technological arrival on the scene, we are quick to dismiss the established ecosystem. “TV is dead” is the same as “Radio is dead”, “Music labels are dead” and so on.

However, all of the above are far from dead. In fact, they are flourishing. Even sales of vinyl records in the first half of the year exceeded music streaming revenues. A recent Nielsen study in Malaysia validated that Malaysians still regard TV advertising as the top source of influence when buying new products (46 percent), coming second after word-of-mouth and ahead of in-store, internet and social media.

With the convergence of traditional and digital TV models as well as streaming services and online platforms such as YouTube, Vimeo and Dailymotion, I do not foresee an extinction of the old players, but an important turning point for TV to remain the leader in content making.

There is a place in our ecosystem for both the established and the new. Linear TV sources like the free-to-air (FTA) TV stations and satellite TV services will always have their function. For instance, Cadbury Malaysia relied heavily on TV channels to deliver content as it addressed the nationwide halal crisis that affected the brand. With TV coverage from news to talk shows reaching approximately 13.6 million Malay viewers, the catastrophe was successfully contained and sales recovered to 50 percent by December 2014.

For me, two major points further reinforce why linear TV will be around for a long while.

The first is that the mass market determines whether linear TV will be relevant. Not us in this marketing world, sipping our lattes and talking about marketing innovations. And the mass market has been overwhelming voting in favour of linear TV. We, as producers or publishers or marketers, will not be the ones determining the future of linear TV, as we are not the end users.

In fact, the only real innovation that has been embraced by the mass market has been time-shifted linear—the convenience to pause, forward, record. For most Malaysians, at least now, that’s enough convenience. That’s enough innovation.

Yes, having libraries of video-on-demand content can be fun and exhilarating, but we get tired easily of trying to curate our own content from millions of options out there.

The second thing linear TV has got going for it is something I call ‘The Event and Same-Time Experience’.

A large number of people viewing at the same time creates an instantaneous event. Linear TV does this well. Advertisers live for moments like this—an efficient collection of target audiences to deliver their campaign message at one go. Large sporting events like The Malaysia Cup Final attract up to 4 million viewers on FTA TV. A big local drama like Rindu Awak 200% had 4.4 million viewers of its final episode. Even the final episode of Game of Thrones was something everyone wanted to watch together.

These events create huge ripples, fuelled by social media, which in turn makes the event a bigger hit. So the trick is to harness both linear TV and the digital space at one go. You can’t do one without the other. Digital is not a silo. It cannot exist in isolation to be effective. It must be within a set of co-operative platforms. Combine digital with TV, print, radio, outdoor and suddenly you may have a very real chance of having a successful campaign.

Our discussions on media should concentrate on how the new stuff adds to the old stuff, and not how it kills it. How experiences spread across platforms, not fit into one.

In the end, though, I will admit that the success of any platform or campaign depends on one thing.

And that is: Who’s got the hit?

Whoever has the hit will be the one that will drive consumers to their door.

And currently, last I checked, hits are still reigning high in linear “old-fashioned” TV.

Ahmad Izham Omar is CEO of Television Networks with Media Prima Berhad

 

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