Digital and Advertising

This week’s class discussion and coursework focused on the effect of digital on advertising. The conversation got me thinking about commercials.

In the past two years, I have significantly cut back on watching live broadcast television and instead view most programs online on platforms like Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime and YouTube. This has significantly changed my commercial viewing experience.

In some ways, online commercials give viewers more control over their advertising experience. Then again, maybe it’s the illusion of control. Many of the videos I watch on YouTube begin with an advertisement, but after a certain number of seconds give the option to skip the ad. That’s not always the case when I view videos on other websites where I am required to watch an entire commercial before being able to view the video content. Sometimes I don’t bother watching the content if I don’t have the patience to sit through the commercial.


When I watch Hulu I am often given the option to choose my ad experience. Three commercials are offered with the instruction to pick one. I suspect most people are like me and just randomly choose an ad without giving it much consideration. So much for data mining. Hulu also offers an extended ad experience at the beginning of a program allowing the viewer to watch the show without commercial interruption.

What does all this mean for advertising? Brands have only seconds to capture a user’s attention according to this Inc. article:

Your advertising efforts ultimately boil down to the first five seconds. In these crucial moments, consumers decide whether they’ll buy into your brand or check out completely. After that, engagement drops drastically.

It’s funny to note I have been watching the 1960’s series Route 66 on Hulu. Chevrolet was the main commercial sponsor of the series back then and the program includes the old advertisements. These commercials are quite long compared to today’s ads, yet I happily sit through them and find them fascinating to watch. Go figure.

Speaking of old commercials, a political ad from 1964 recently resurfaced titled “Confessions of a Republican”. The actor in the ad plays a republican who is conflicted about voting for Barry Goldwater saying, “This man scares me.” The video, which has received more than 11 million views on Facebook, makes comparisons to some voters unease with Donald Trump’s run for the White House. It’s rather ironic that a fifty-year-old television advertisement can still connect with an audience as well as go viral over the internet.





Our class coursework and discussion this week focused on how the digital world has disrupted journalism. I have had a front-row seat to these changes.

When I attended undergraduate school for journalism 30 years ago, I was told to choose wisely when considering my area of concentration. The options at the time were print, radio, magazine, or broadcast. It was made clear that once I chose a specialty, there would not be an opportunity to cross over. That all changed within a few years of graduation.


photo: Casey Marshall / Creative Commons

Digital transformed the industry not only through technology but also through the means by which to create and communicate a story.  It was clear the field of communications was rapidly changing, requiring knowledge in all aspects and forms of storytelling.

Digital technology also changed the competition. Television news outlets were no longer just competing with other cable and network broadcasts. At first, it was websites and blogs featuring slideshows, infographics, podcasts and streaming video. Once social media took hold, we were also competing with citizen journalists.

These changes required us to understand our audience better. Viewers were turning off their televisions in favor of their mobile devices. The grip of digital technology on attention spans created a difficult challenge in television news and transformed how we informed and interacted with an audience.

Our class discussion focused not only on disruption but also on the effect digital has had on journalistic values. One of those values was the time devoted to telling a story. At one point in my producing career, a five-minute video story was common. But over the years, the average running time for a video story has been whittled down to about ninety seconds. Somehow we convinced ourselves those three and a half extra minutes of story time didn’t matter.

Less value was also placed on original reporting. Provocative headlines brought in higher ratings and became the driving force of many news programs.

One of my own personal experiences with journalistic values had to do with my final days at CNN. The program I worked on had been canceled and I met with the young EP who had been hired to launch a new morning show. I was on the fence about whether it was time to move on and the answer became clear after I asked him what types of stories I would be producing. At the time, Justin Bieber had abandoned his pet monkey in Germany and the EP used it as an example of a jumping off point for a story about celebrities and their unusual pets.

I realized at that moment that I wasn’t making a decision to quit the industry. It had already quit me.



Back to Earth

Last night’s class discussion focused on big data and how it has disrupted the status quo of what was once considered normal. We examined its effect on banking, education, health and fitness, and retail. Needless to say, big data has transformed all of these industries and our lives in both structured and unstructured ways.

While I’m supposed to be reflecting on our class discussion, what stuck with me from last night is what happened after class ended. I decided to watch the livestream of astronaut Scott Kelly’s return to earth onboard the Soyuz space capsule.

scott kelly

NASA/Bill Ingalls

After all these years I had grown used to NASA’s space shuttles using aircraft technology to land on a runway. Spectators and the media would view and report from a safe distance.

Watching the Soyuz capsule parachute out of the sky and land on a barren field in Khazikstan brought back memories of the early years of the Apollo missions when command modules re-entered the earth by splashing down into the ocean. For all the talk about recent technology transforming our lives, it’s interesting to note the Soyuz spacecraft hasn’t disrupted the status quo. It really hasn’t changed much over the past 50 years. A BBC news article  refers to the Soyuz as “the space equivalent of a white van or pick-up truck. It’s built to do a job.” Meanwhile, NASA’s space shuttles have been retired.

It wasn’t just the Soyuz that fascinated me. Once on the ground, Commander Kelly and the cosmonauts were physically pulled from the capsule which was completely surrounded by photographers and videographers. As soon as each man was pulled out he was carried over to a nearby recliner and wrapped in a blanket. One of the cosmonauts looked slightly motion sick.

While Scott Kelly kept saying how amazing the fresh air felt,  I kept thinking there is something so delightfully refreshing yet old school about watching this. There were no press ropes keeping the photographers at bay. There were no specially designed images or messages. It was just three space travelers sitting in recliners out in an open field for all the world to see.

It made me realize sometimes transformation can be overrated.



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