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Where will advertising money go in the digital era?

ผู้เขียน: Tubkwan Homchampa  

Published in Bangkok Post newspaper / February 20, 2013


The undeniable, worldwide trend in media is the flow of audiences and advertising money away from traditional platforms and into newer, non-traditional areas such as the internet and in-store. Thailand's print and radio industries have not been exempt from this phenomenon, but the Land of Smiles is an outlier in one area: television. Thailand's incumbent terrestrial television networks have managed to hold onto a 60% market share of advertising spend for some time now amidst the increasing influence of the World Wide Web.

Unlike virtually all of its competitors, free-to-air terrestrial television in Thailand is entrenched with a near-perfect penetration rate. Because of its popularity, TV remains the main advertising channel of consumer products. As such, while incumbent terrestrial TV's strong market share of advertising spend is a tempting target, any challengers will likely have a difficult time prying some of it away. At least until close contenders to the incumbents are brought into the market, and we are seeing 4 distinct storms on the horizon for the industry status quo.

The first two: the imminent digital terrestrial television (DTT) licensing and the unstoppable growth of cable and satellite TV represent the key competition from within the TV industry, while the emergence of online media and the surging popularity of Below-the-Line advertising offer external competition for advertising money to the incumbent TV channels.

The new DTT entrants after the licensing takes place in July this year will introduce new viewing options and thereby increase competition for advertising money. In the past, Thai television has had a limited amount of time allotted for advertising on the back of a fixed number of free-to-air channels and the two hours or so the average Thai viewer spends watching television. Because of this constraint on supply, prices for ad spots have steadily risen. But as soon as digital TV licenses are awarded, new commercial channels will come into the market seeking advertisers. Because of the influx on new entrants, the incumbents will see their negotiating power decrease. All of these changes will make "content" a major contributor to either success or failure, especially when digitization will also allow for more accurate television ratings, which in turn will allow potential advertisers to tailor their advertising campaigns much more efficiently.

The incumbents will also have to worry about competition from emerging TV platforms like cable and satellite. The growth of emerging platforms, especially satellite and cable TV, is now becoming more apparent with as many as 60% of Thai households now having either satellite dishes or cable TV subscriptions in 2012. While the advertising spend on these platforms today is still as low as only 10% of that of the free-to-air TV platform this far, the high growth of as much as 100% in recent years just cannot be ignored. It is not difficult to imagine ad money spread out across different platforms and across several TV channels, and this increased competition should encourage stations to improve the quality of their content in order to protect or grow market share.

Outside the realm of television, the online industry is rapidly becoming a force to be reckoned with, given that it can get past negative public perception. While online advertising is still small when compared with television, revenue growth is high and market share is growing. However, as with any relatively new industry, there are some teething problems to be worked out before online can challenge the television behemoth. For example, because supply of online ad inventory seems unlimited, meaning that the marginal cost of adding more space is quite low, advertisers may be unwilling to pay a premium for online ads until they can be assured of the advertising value. Reputation is another matter of concern. Some online ads are loaded with unwanted materials, while others are created with the intention to at least momentarily distract or deceive internet users into clicking them. All of these issues can leave some internet users questioning the veracity of the content contained in online ads, possibly leading advertisers to be skeptical about the effectiveness of online advertising as a whole.

Despite the considerable headwinds, those websites that can appeal to branded advertisers could pose a serious threat to TV industry. Many advertisers with premium brands may not be interested in joining the crowd with average ad placements but instead seek out "premium" ad space to stand above the fray and maintain their premium price deferential. With this in mind, it may be possible for website owners to create a "limited supply" environment for branded advertisers in order to make sure there is no money left on the table. In particular, some industries such as finance, automobiles and healthcare have a finite audience and a limited number of places where target audience gathers online. Advertisers in these industries can limit their advertising options to the top 10 sites that specialize in their field and will be willing to pay premium for ad space. For website owners, a winning strategy again comes down to creating high quality content to attract a specific audience and thus advertising money.

The advertising industry as a whole is seeing revenue syphoned away by such advertising techniques as Below-the-line (BTL) advertising, and soon enough it will come for the incumbent television industry, as well. This BTL method is a form of non-traditional advertising that delivers tangible incentive to purchase a product, such as a coupon or a product sample. In-store advertising which grew 70% over the past year in Thailand is a good example of a successful BTL advertising method as it has now become a three billion baht advertising medium and accounts for some of traditional media's lost revenue. Some companies find this type of advertising preferential since it allows for increased customer engagement and empowerment and often allows businesses to see an immediate payoff. More companies experimenting with BTL advertising will eventually translate into lower revenues for both online and offline media outlets.

Advertising expenditures-and by extension media revenue-are driven by consumer and corporate wealth much more than by industry technology. Over the long run, the total media market will likely grow at a relatively constant rate close to the level of economic growth. The competition between media companies, therefore, appears to be an unfortunate zero-sum game, forcing companies to tear market share away from rivals in order to grow. Those who can remain nimble, sense the coming trends, create high-quality content, and have insight into the most efficient methods of allocating precious advertising budgets will ultimately prevail in the cut-throat environment that is the advertising industry.  



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