Medium Wars: Cable vs. Broadcast TV

blogpic_trapperSince its inception, few mediums have rivaled television’s ability to communicate an advertising message to the masses. The king of mediums combines an unrivaled reach with the unique ability to communicate true emotion, all in easy-to-embrace 30-second segments. Television has been the de facto “brand maker” for over 50 years, and though detractors point to declining audiences, the medium continues to outperform all others in sheer reach and—this is key—that’s especially true when it comes to viewers over the age of 55.

As senior living providers continue to consolidate and expand, they are beginning to see the tremendous benefits of advertising on television. The first question most uninitiated television advertisers ask is should we advertise on cable TV or broadcast TV? The question is an excellent one, and this question is posed to Forté often.

For our purposes, the four main differentiators between cable and broadcast television are reach, audience segmentation, coverage area, and cost.

Let’s examine and compare how both formats perform in these critical areas:

Reach: Hands-down, broadcast television dominates in reach (the number of households watching any given programming). Weekly powerhouses like NCIS, Big Bang Theory and Dancing with the Stars attract up to 23 million viewers per week. Outside of prime time, even the lowest-rated broadcast shows outperform most cable TV shows.

Audience Segmentation: When your advertised product or service has a very narrow audience—as does senior living’s—reach must be evaluated simultaneously with the fragmentation of that audience. Broadcast TV has mass appeal; with single affiliates literally attracting toddlers, seniors and everyone in between. The challenge for our industry is that lack of segmentation creates an abundance of waste. While it doesn’t hurt, you aren’t advertising efficiently by paying to reach 15-35 year-olds. Conversely, cable TV is highly segmented. With networks devoted to very specific programming, senior living advertisers are able to select networks such as History, Discovery, TNT and the Weather Channel—all of which consistently perform very well with seniors.

Coverage Area: As with reach, broadcast TV almost always enjoys a much larger coverage area than any single cable system/zone. That’s a significant benefit of broadcast TV if you’re advertising Pepsi, McDonald’s or other goods and services that can be easily purchased by any viewer within a large geographic area. However, if you’re promoting just one or two assisted living communities, for instance, chances are good that 50-75% of the audience is simply too far from you to care. Cable TV intentionally answers that dilemma by dividing a larger area into numerous, smaller zones. These zones limit coverage to a much smaller area, allowing advertisers with limited geographic appeal to advertise solely to an audience that is well within the reach of your community.

Cost: Though there are several metrics used to examine TV advertising cost, we’ll review the all-important CPM or “cost-per-thousand,” a measurement used to gauge the efficiency of many advertising mediums. As you might guess, the CPM of broadcast TV is almost always lower than that of cable TV; and thus its appeal to national advertisers. Senior living advertisers, utilizing broadcast TV, can expect to pay less for 1,000 viewers to see their 30-second commercial, but as mentioned earlier, that lower cost is accompanied by considerable waste. Cable TV may yield a CPM that’s 2 to 3 times higher than broadcast TV, but by selecting networks wisely, senior living advertisers can limit their message to an audience with a much higher percentages of adult children and seniors.

As you might guess, the selection of broadcast TV or cable TV is very specific to each advertiser. Beyond our brief review in this piece, advertisers must also consider frequency, selecting specific programs vs. 24-hour rotators, gross ratings points, and of course the strategic and creative components that ultimately generate a response. TV advertising must be very strategically-planned, but when properly executed, the results are powerful.

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