TV networks are taking serious jabs at 'subprime' streaming competitors

Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal‘SNL’s’ Kate McKinnon gathers NBCU stars to emulate Ellen DeGeneres’ Oscar selfie during upfronts on Monday.

Television networks aren’t taking their digital competitors’ plays for advertising dollars sitting down.

An early trend of the annual network TV upfront presentations to advertisers, currently taking place in New York City, is a series of jabs at the claims that digital companies have more effective reach than TV.

For example, NBCUniversal’s advertising sales chairman Linda Yaccarino held a very strange conversation with Amazon’s Alexa about why a powerhouse like Amazon came to NBC to promote its Echo, a new voice-controlled device for your home.

“I don’t care what those Silicon Valley guys say,” she said. “There is no algorithm for heart-pumping, blood-racing, breath-holding premium content. Television: It’s not about the ones and the zeroes. It’s about the oohs and the ahs.”

She supported her argument by stating that the average person spends seven times
more time watching TV versus being on Facebook and 15 times more hours watching TV than they do watching YouTube videos. (She did not cite the source of her statistics, but according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, the average person spends 2.8 hours per day watching TV, about 4 times the amount Facebook says the average user is active on its social network.)

Fox, which also held its upfront on Monday, took jabs at YouTube specifically. In a video featuring “Family Guy” cocreator Seth MacFarlane, his message was cut off by a “skip ad” prompt as on YouTube. The network also referred to online videos in unflattering terms, such as
“subprime videos” and the less euphemistic “crappy online video.”
Fox also touted its on-demand offerings, pointing out that you can’t fast-forward through commercials and that 28% of the network’s viewership comes through on-demand.

It’s clearly responding to last week’s statements from YouTube, which touted how much it’s viewed compared to traditional TV, based on a commissioned Googly study.

“I’m happy to announce that on mobile alone YouTube now reaches more 18- to-49-year-olds than any network — broadcast or cable,” YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said during its presentation to advertisers last week. “In fact, we reach more 18- to-49-year-olds [in the US] during primetime than the top 10 TV shows combined.”

Clearly for the TV networks, those were fighting words. As we await ABC, CBS, and The CW’s upfront presentations over the next few days, we expect there to be more jabs at the digital guys.

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