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AT&T Dares to “Rethink Possible”

Mon, 06/18/2018

By Joshua Gardner, Vice President, North American Lead, Global Energy Practice 

In 2016, Americans spent 40% more time online than on TV. That’s about two hours online for every hour they spent watching TV. And Americans watch a lot of TV – nearly five hours on average per day. 

Think about that. 

Americans know that digital platforms deliver far more convenience than traditional media. Digital empowers them to find the precise information and facts they're seeking. They decide the search terms, the content, the time, the length, and … well, everything else. 

It feels like we’re trapped in an endless debate between traditional and digital, but let’s be clear: it’s not a zero-sum game. Whether you’re running for office or introducing a new product line, TV continues to play an important role. But as Americans move through the decision-making process – for whom to vote or which product to buy – digital plays an increasingly important role.  

The fact is, Americans believe TV provides too much spin and too few details. Just ask anyone who’s ever written an ad script: you can only fit about 76 words in a 30-second spot. That’s simply not enough time, and Americans have taken notice. They demand more, and if you won’t provide it then they’ll find it online.

For communicators and marketers, this means engaging people where they are, not where you hope they’ll be. 

So, where are they? Likely on their smartphone – in fact, nearly 55% of news reading happens via a mobile device. Need more proof? Almost 60% of election-related searches in the year 2016 came from mobile devices – that’s up nearly 3x since the last presidential election cycle.

Americans are staying up-to-date with the world around them, fact-checking everything they hear and see, and communicating with each other via their mobile devices. These second-screen moments deliver incredible opportunities to tell a story across all channels and meet people when they are in their most active, information-seeking mode.

But engaging with Americans means more than just having a digital presence. You must capture their attention with new and different content, and in ways that matter to them. On the internet, for example, your audiences give you license to ignore the traditional guidelines that are often associated with traditional content. It's not just the 15-second, the 30-second, or the 60-second ad. It could be a two-minute, a six-minute, or even an eight-minute video. It could be a meme, a gif, a cluster of emojis. It’s whatever you want it to be. 

This is precisely the thinking behind AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner. 

AT&T-Time Warner
Image Credits:

Every company wants to be on every platform. It wasn’t that long ago when people watched TV on TV; today’s users – including their kids – are streaming on tablets, phones, and computers, watching Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and everything in between, and using Sling TV and Alexa and all sorts of means to project content across different rooms and on the road. 

The cross-merger between AT&T and Time Warner – a merger of content, tech, and platform – means AT&T can use its reach to offer sweeter deals to its own customers. Imagine the email offer to bundle HBO, 4GB of wireless data, DirecTV Now, and Digital Life home security for just $249 a month. Deals like that could persuade would-be cord cutters to pay AT&T for its content the way Netflix has persuaded more than 100 million consumers to subscribe to its platform.

AT&T can also better target ads based on what you watch on TV and view online. It has a gigantic data analytics business, including a marketing service for corporate customers; it also has about 100 million wireless subscribers who use their phones for everything. Imagine a future in which AT&T knows you watch basketball on TNT, read Bleacher Report on your phone, bought tickets to “Space Jam 2”, and notices you're near a Dick's Sporting Goods. Suddenly you have a sponsored notification for a coupon on your phone.

The possibilities are endless, but they speak to an ever-growing demand by consumers to get what they want, when they want – even if that means greater consolidation and fewer actual choices. We're living in an on-demand world and most companies have responded accordingly. Comcast bought NBCUniversal from General Electric in 2009, which gave the cable company USA Network, CNBC, and NBC, among others. Comcast also recently announced a bidding war for 21st Century Fox’s film and television assets. Amazon could buy a movie studio like Lion’s Gate. Apple, Facebook, and Google are dipping into producing video and can acquire more assets for that endeavor. Sprint has already announced a deal with T-Mobile, which has a partnership with Netflix. Sinclair Broadcasting is morphing into an indomitable giant at the local news level. Verizon, the other big distribution network, waits in the wings. 

Regardless of which merger happens next, the fact remains: mergers like the AT&T and Time Warner one are creating a new type of media environment where content exclusivity is the rule rather than the exception. Indeed, a stated goal of AT&T’s deal was to compete with the tech platforms in a war for our attention. Now, any content firm – a big tech company (Netflix), a movie studio (Disney), or a TV network (CBS All Access) – can become a provider of both content and delivery through streaming.

This may be what consumers demand today; it’s anyone’s guess what they’ll want tomorrow.

Joshua GardnerJoshua Gardner is a vice president in MSL’s Washington D.C. office and also serves as the North American lead in MSL’s Energy sector.

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