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POLITICO: Fact vs. Fiction: How Are You Really Going to Reach Voters?

Few political teams question local television’s ability to reach the right audience with the right message. TV is viewed as the most persuasive and effective ad medium — and viewers are spending more time watching TV than ever before. But, with the shifting media landscape, some now downplay the reach and influence of TV advertising.

For example, a recent  survey by SAY: Media, a digital media content services provider,   seems aimed to make political media buyers believe digital is the new TV.

Voters watch much less live TV, according to the survey, than they once did. When they view recorded TV, it says they skip the commercials. The study found this is particularly true of younger viewers — with 30 percent of those surveyed saying they plan on viewing less live TV in the future.

It suggests that to compete in today’s media marketplace and to reach these disappearing viewers, political campaigns need to allocate more ad money to online efforts created by digital providers — like SAY: Media.

OK, I get it. Create or define a marketing communications problem and then create or define the solution. But wait. In this case, the survey’s results are startling. And the “problem” facts get in the way.

Let’s step back.

The A.C. Nielsen Company spends millions of dollars every year measuring people’s actual television, DVR, online and mobile viewing behaviors. Here’s what Nielsen says is happening now on the viewing front:

Of the total 35 hours a week that 25-to-34 year olds spend watching video, 87.7 percent is TV; time-shifted viewing (watching programs recorded on a DVR) is 9.1 percent; watching video on the Web is 2.7 percent; and mobile video viewing is 0.5 percent.

In the 35-to-49 demographic, live TV garners 90.3 percent of video viewing time. Time shifted viewing is 7.9 percent, online video is 1.6 percent and mobile video is 0.2 percent — 40 hours total.

The 50-to-64-year-old demographic watches more TV — 48 hours per week. Time spent with live TV is 93.3 percent, and DVRs is 5.8 percent, online video is 0.9percent and time with mobile video, 0.1 percent . Those older than 65 do virtually all viewing on live TV.

Is there a tilt toward DVR, online and mobile by younger viewers versus older? Yes. Is it at a tipping point? No — not when 87.7 percent of younger viewing time is spent watching live TV.

There are a lot of exciting tools and opportunities to communicate with voters in the online space. But the digital plays do not solve a current problem  – because there is no current problem. Television viewing is increasing. Growing both in the number of viewers and the time spent with live TV. Usage has never been higher.

Digital platforms provide new ways of reaching voters and complementing TV’s reach. Sure, they are now expected components of a politician’s media plan. But, their seat at the campaign’s media table will not be replacing TV.

Local broadcast TV will remain, in David Axelrod’s words, the “nuclear weapon” of political persuasion.

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