‘People have lost sight of what the facts are’ – Paul Maher on the continued relevance of TV

Yesterday’s new season launch was Paul Maher’s ninth day in his third stint at TVNZ, and he says he hopes this is the last stop in his career.   

“It feels like I’m back home,” he says.

“I’m not sure if there’s a limit as to how many times, but hopefully this is the last time.”

Maher says that while it’s still relatively early in his stint as commercial director, he’s really interested in changing the perception that TV is dead. 

“We’ve been a little bit silent, so part of what I intend to do is be more vocal around where the value is,” he says.

“There’s so much rhetoric around the threat that television is under from digital that people have lost sight of what the facts are.”

Here Maher touches on the strong PR game played by the digital companies in making traditional media seem antiquated. And while it’s true that media habits among New Zealanders are changing, Maher argues that television continues to be a very strong medium.

“The fact is that 2.2 million New Zealanders are still coming to us every day,” he says. “And on a cost per thousand basis, television is still half the cost per eyeball of pretty much any other medium.”

The affordability and scale of television is part of the reason why Maher’s predecessor Jeremy O’Brien was so intent on introducing programmatic buying to television. By introducing a buying methodology that allowed for direct comparison with digital, O’Brien believed that he could show advertisers the extent of the channel’s continued reach.

“[In New Zealand,] the cost of television is just so attractive and the audiences are so large,” Maher says.

This resonates with the thinking of Mitre 10’s Dave Elliott, who last year told StopPress that he continues to invest in television because it “remains the cheapest place to accumulate an audience.”

These sentiments were also reiterated in the latest edition of NZ Marketing by ANZ marketing director Astrud Burgess, who said that television still plays an integral role in building brand awareness for the bank.

Maher says he isn’t surprised that marketing heads at major consumer-facing businesses still see value in television, pointing to the recent international example of Proctor & Gamble as a warning to brands thinking about reducing spend in television.

“They made a switch to digital and now have switched back to, not just television but mass media,” Maher says. “ And the reason for that is when they moved away their business got smaller.”

Maher also makes the point that it’s proving very difficult to build brands in digital.

“When he was here, [the Ad Contrarian]Bob [Hoffman] asked us to name a brand that was built in digital, and we kind of went, ‘aah, maybe Google’. But where does Google spend all its money? On television. And Apple? What does it do?”

There is certainly something quite ironic about the tendency of new media players to spend lavishly on television.  

This was evident in figures published by Business Insider earlier this year showing that tech companies are some of the biggest contributors to overall TV ad spend in the UK: 

“Perhaps surprisingly, it was digital powerhouses like Facebook and Google which led this growth. Digital companies are often said to be taking away TV ad revenue, but on average they spent 60 percent of their own marketing budgets on TV ads in the UK. This totalled around £500 million (about US$704 million). Facebook invested the most of any new TV advertiser at £10.8 million (about US$15.2 million).”

However, far from being a luddite, Maher isn’t rejecting progress and says that digital forms an integral part of the broadcaster’s future.

“Television isn’t dying,” he says. “To quote Bob Hoffmann again, it’s just having babies. And I think as a video business we are well placed for the future.”

The trick, however, will lie in getting advertisers to see that.

  • To see more stories on the launch of TVNZ’s new season, click here

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