Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Back to the Future! NBC's Ignore-the-Web Ad Pitch

At the annual “upfront” presentations this week, the broadcast networks try to sell advertisers the shows they’ll air next fall, using splashy presentations and cocktails.

Depending on the year and the network, you’ll also hear some lip service paid to digital. Yesterday, for instance, Fox played up its popularity on Facebook. (Both Fox and this Web site are owned by News Corp.)

But these events really aren’t the place to be if you’re trying to reach Web eyeballs: The TV ad guys are paid to sell TV ads, and they’re happy to explain why TV is the best place to spend your money.

Here’s how NBC chairman Ted Harbert put it yesterday, during his network’s pitch. Technology is great, he said. But!

What we really need to focus on is a lot more of the back-breaking blocking and tackling that brings great stories and great characters to television–or what I call now–the “big screen”…

Of course we have to embrace change. We know that consumers are looking for content any place they can get it.

And I’m no different from anyone else. I love catching up on episodes of “Parenthood” on nbc.com. The xfinity app actually works. And like you, I like all devices that begin with the letter “i.” And I’d be lost without my laptop.

But please remember: The best and most popular, most salable content starts here.

Now to put some things in perspective. According to our close friends at Nielsen, each week, people spend almost 38 hours in front of the television set, only 20 minutes a week watching video online, and just four minutes a week watching mobile video.

So until George Jetson shows up and folds his spacecar into a briefcase, the big screen is still the best place to watch video. Whether you’re a 26-year-old media buyer, part of a family of four, or an alpha boomer like me.

If you’re so inclined, it would be easy to listen to Harbert’s pitch and conclude that he’s a dinosaur. But a better word would be “pragmatist”.

Traditional TV may or may not be in the midst of a disruption, but for now it’s a $70 billion business. Web video ads? $1 billion. Until the gap between those numbers closes a bit, Harbert and his new employers at Comcast are going to spend most of their time on the big screen.


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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald