Audience Insights: Reaching Beyond the Cord to Reconsider Potential Reach

04.18.2023 David Gustafson4 min

As a Gen X-er enjoying the twilight of my time in the stalwart Adults 25-54 demographic, I have experienced a fair amount of change when it comes to television.  I grew up in an era when the console TV was a piece of furniture with a cabinet that dwarfed the screen it was meant to showcase. 

In what can only be described as the “golden age” of TV in the Gustafson house, the picture tube once went kaput on our color console set, leaving us with only the crystal clear non-stereo sounds of our favorite programs.  Not to be deterred, we retrieved the old 13-inch black-and-white set that had been stuffed away in the basement after the audio went on the fritz, and we stacked it on top of the pictureless console.  For a period of weeks that surely seemed like years, we filled our evenings with this innovative combination – all in an era without remote controls, which meant manually changing the dial on both sets to ensure the sound and picture stayed in sync.

Fast forward to 2023 and the trusty television can be an 85-inch ultra-HD set that hangs on the wall like a piece of fine art, a six-inch smartphone screen that can be stuffed in a pocket, or seemingly anything in between.  Gone are the days of “changing the dial,” as we now speak into smart remotes that nimbly navigate our increasingly dizzying collection of channels, programs, and subscriptions with breakneck speed. 

For all that has changed, though, one aspect of Local TV advertising has remained conspicuously consistent for the years I’ve been fortunate enough to carve out a career in the industry.  The way many advertisers and agencies first evaluate the potential effectiveness of a Local TV partner is by asking about market penetration – i.e., “What percentage of TV homes in the market can you potentially reach?”

As we’ve discussed previously on these pages, an over-emphasis on percentages can be problematic in advertising – and particularly so in this case, as the answer to the question has generally failed to keep pace with the rapidly changing realities of how people interact with television programming.  Indeed, for this question to retain any relevance in today’s Local TV landscape, we need to adjust our picture of what TV represents to today’s consumer.

According to recent Nielsen data, overall television viewership remains consistent with pre-pandemic levels – but the way each of us consumes our nearly five hours of TV time per day has changed dramatically in recent years.  While Cable networks collectively continue to garner more viewing time than Broadcast stations, Streaming services have emerged as the overall leader in time spent with TV.  

The good news for Cox Media advertisers, though, is that our portfolio has evolved to keep pace with changing media habits, expanding our potential reach in the market well beyond a singular historical focus on Cable TV.  Our evolution dates back to 2003 when we rebranded from CableRep Advertising, and we’ve continued to expand our local advertising offerings ever since.  For example, when alternatives to “wired” Cable emerged in the form of Satellite and Telco providers, we secured partnerships that created a seamless way for advertisers to reach Cable TV viewers throughout our markets.

All the while, we’ve expanded our product set to provide increased opportunities for reaching more consumers in more places on more devices – and today our combination of solutions delivers access to Streaming viewers, significantly broadening our potential reach beyond the confines of the “cord” that once defined our CableRep days.

In many ways, the question of potential reach now is perhaps more easily addressed from the opposite end of the spectrum – i.e., “What homes in the market do you not have the potential to reach?”

For today’s Cox Media, that answer essentially comes down to two types of households.  First, if a home has neither TV nor broadband internet service, we are not likely to have a path for delivering advertising to that household.  Similarly, our advertising solutions would be challenged to reach a non-broadband home that only receives Broadcast TV stations via over-the-air antenna.

Outside of those limitations, the advertising options available in most Cox Media markets offer the potential to reach almost any home with a broadband internet connection – regardless of whether that home subscribes to a traditional TV provider or only accesses Streaming services. 

Times have indeed changed.  TV viewing has changed.  Cox Media has changed.  Now is the time to change how we evaluate potential.  Now is the time to stop making advertising decisions based on outdated perceptions and percentages and move to a more pertinent question: How can Cox Media create a customized campaign that delivers the right audience across multiple viewing platforms?

NOTE: The author wishes to thank Ted White, Sr. Director of Currency Strategy & Methodology at Ampersand for consultation and continuing contributions on this topic.

About the Author

David Gustafson

As Cox Media’s Director of Linear & Audience Research, David plays a key role in the company’s usage and interpretation of TV audience data. With more than two decades of industry experience, David currently is a member of the Nielsen Local Policy Guidelines Committee (PGC) and VAB Measurement Innovation Task Force, as well as client advisor to Comscore. Known as “The Professor,” David’s articles combine his passion for writing with a penchant for concisely explaining complex topics.

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