The future is bright: Jason Paris on TV’s second wind

Jason Paris’ switcheroo from the head of digital media and marketing at TVNZ to chief executive of MediaWorks in March created, quite understandably, a fair swag of industry chatter. And, while he’s learning quickly about the differences between working for a company owned by a private equity firm and one that’s owned by the government, he’s still grappling with a lot of the same televisual issues and the social changes that are influencing them. And, in his presentation at the Death, Taxes and TVCs event last week, he agreed wholeheartedly with Colenso BBDO’s planning director James Hurman that, despite many assertions to the contrary, mass media is still alive and kicking. In fact, he says “television has never been more popular”.

Paris started out his presentation by describing his own media consumption schedule, a diet he doesn’t believe isn’t particularly ‘normal’ in terms of the nation’s habits. He wakes up to National Radio, checks the news on his phone, reads the paper (or what he calls ‘aged news’), reads news online throughout the day, gets news alerts sent to him and then heads home, where he might watch something he’s recorded on MySky.

For a chief executive of a major broadcasting network, he admits it might seem strange that he doesn’t get the chance to watch much TV, but he says marcomms folk (the same ones who often seem to be making predictions about the death of TV and the rise of everything else) generally aren’t representative of the masses. For example, according to research by Colmar Brunton that was conducted on behalf of TVNZ last year, 70 percent of New Zealanders aged 18-54 are actually home before 6pm. Added to that, media consumption is the most popular activity between 6am and midnight and free to air TV still captures most of the attention.  

“It’s just as powerful. We’re watching more TV on TV, as well as on other screens,” he says.

So there’s more television being watched today, he says it has the same reach, it’s cost effective and it’s becoming more targeted. So then, he asks, what’s the problem?

Of course, the problem is that there are so many more TV channels (and media channels) now on offer. But despite the fact there may be hundreds of options, US research shows that as the number of channels grows, the average number that viewers watch in a week stays at around 15, with three or four firm favourites. So channel loyalty, he believes, most definitely exists.

While fragmentation and new technology is generally seen as a bad thing for curmudgeonly old television, he says it is actually increasing value and opportunities, both for advertisers and broadcasters. He points to the Tourism Australia ad that triggered a creative message when TiVo users fast forwarded through the ads (in typically brash Aussie style the message was ‘why the bloody hell are you fast forwarding through the ads’). He also says US research has showed that many viewers actually stop fast forwarding to watch good ads (at present, he says just 20 percent of television content in New Zealand being watched is time-shifted).

The fact that good ads are actually enjoyed and appreciated by viewers (and, as the ever-popular Fair Go Ad Awards shows, bad ones as well) got him to thinking out loud about an idea that the MediaWorks sales department would probably hate: to reward good advertising with a discount. Of course, how the enjoyment levels of the viewers would be measured is a question for a separate presentation. But at present, he says a loading is placed on 90 and 60 second ads, which seems to be promoting the short, shouty ‘we’ve gone crazy’ 15 second ads that are the bane of many an ad purist’s life. For him, it should be the opposite, and by encouraging longer spots and rewarding better ads, he thinks it might help inspire more creativity and story-telling, something he believes is becoming increasingly important.

He pointed to a few examples of how that can work, such as Jimmy Carr’s hijacking of an ad break on Channel 4 in the UK and Ikea’s ‘Unböring’ campaign, which he believes could be a great mantra for TV advertising. However, in saying that more creativity is required, he did also mention that he thinks there are some executive creative directors that seem to be focused on winning awards rather than on business results for clients.

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As far as preparing for the future, he believes there are four different kinds of people: 1) those who don’t see the changes coming 2) those who see them coming but don’t want to do anything about it because the current model is working for them 3) those who see them coming but don’t know what to do about it. And 4) those who know that something has to be done but can’t get anyone, usually those from category two, to do anything about it.

Paris, like everyone else in the television industry, realises things are changing—quickly. But he believes TV is in a good position because it’s still a social experience. And there’s still a desire from the public to be part of the discussions around the watercooler. So for him, TV certainly isn’t dying. And neither is television advertising. They’re both still in fairly fine fettle. And, if anything, with the promise offered by the digital world, it could just be getting its second wind. It will just require more people from category number four to come forward.

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