On November 8, Fox will air a version of Family Guy that is 100% commercial-free. Originally, until calmer heads prevailed , it was to be sponsored by Microsoft as part of a larger deal with Fox to promote Windows 7.
Microsoft is spending a ton of money on the Windows 7 launch. By some accounts, this is a make-or-break moment for them, given the complete failure of Vista to take hold. I’m not so sure about the extreme doom-and-gloom. They are still the “belly button” in the computer (you get one, whether you need it or not), and will be for the foreseeable future. They will be fine.
But what does this say about the current state of television advertising?? Is this somehow like the infamous Happy Days episode in which Fonzie jumps the shark  — a stunt move meant to get people talking (you’re welcome), or does it reflect a deeper problem with old media? Are we seeing some creative revenue opportunities being exploited in a down market, or is this part of a larger trend? Online ad spending recently overtook TV in the UK , and trends would indicate that this is going to continue. Fewer people are consuming old media, and the way they are consuming it is changing. The Family Guy sponsored show may be more of a reaction to the DVR than the Internet.
Online is clearly making itself felt. Money may not have been flooding into online during the recession, but it certainly hasn’t been flowing out. Old media can’t say the same – advertisers know that they can measure results and meter spend at a very fine-grained level online. They have an embarrassing amount of data and dynamism to play with in their online campaigns. They are reaching users at the point of focused interest, where they are searching, even PLEADING for commercial information. They are getting them at work, at home, and on their iPhones.
So, yes, online makes better sense for the advertisers, and can be a better experience for consumers. But old media is still around, and may even have a strong future, in a way. It’s not clear that turning shows into full-length infomercials (infortainmentercials?) will work, but let’s see. It seems to be tweaks to the same old model, rather than trying to understand why online is compelling, and figuring out how to get the old media to acquire some of those advantages.
In fact, it may be Windows 7 itself that starts enabling a lot of this. Hulu, YouTube, iTunes and others are becoming a more interesting way of consuming media, and Windows 7, which built-in DVR functionality, will make time-shifted consumption much easier. Newspapers can regain relevance as eBooks start taking off. There are opportunities for the long-awaited “convergence” to become real.
Suddenly the old media starts looking a lot like the new media. And isn’t this always the way these things happen? No “big bang” convergence, driven by revolutionary technology, but a quiet and persistent pressure from producers and consumers to move things to a new, more optimal place.