Engine's Wight: Don't write off traditional TV yet

AMSTERDAM -- Television isn't going anywhere, says Robin Wight, president of Engine, because it's playing a key role in the way humans communicate and evolve. And it will be a major player in the growth of the entire media ecosystem that encompasses second- and third-screen viewing and engagement.

Robin Wight at IBC 2013.

Wight--an advertising guru who is also the founder of the Ideas Foundation, a UK educational charity, and president of WCRS--spoke at the opening keynote for IBC 2013 here as part of a 4-member panel addressing broadcasting and the reshaping of the media ecosystem.

"For years, we've heard about the coming death of TV," Wight said. And today's new multichannel ecosystems are "much more exciting than that big box in our living rooms." However, from the brain's perspective, rumors of TV's demise are exaggerated. "Brain science shows TV's importance is stronger, not weaker."

Wight has been conducting a study for the past four years of the way the brain processes communications. The study incorporates evolutionary psychology, cognitive psychology and neuroscience, according to a 2012 Creative Brief blog post.

"TV is a key decision-maker for our customers," Wight said. There are a couple of reasons, built around the way the human mind works. But two keys to the way people make decisions are their emotions, and the ease of the decision.

The passive nature of TV-watching makes the boob tube an easy choice for audiences looking to lean back and enjoy a program.

Wight said there's a misconception among broadcasters and advertisers that TV viewership is dropping while online viewers are taking over. Studies are showing different results: Americans watch six times more live television than online video, for example, while a study done in the UK found that people watch 85 hours of television per month on average. Also, 97 percent of all video is watched on TV, while less than 3 percent is viewed online, he said.

"The brain needs TV because it's easy," Wight said. He explained that the brain prefers to use its energy on important things like reproduction or where to get lunch. Learning something new takes twice as much energy for the brain as repeating the same thing.

Advertisers have long known that fact, of course. "Brands only exist because they help consumers make buying decisions without using too much brain power," he said.

However, online advertisers may need a new strategy--because brain scans have shown that viewers process online ads in a different part of the brain, the part dealing with cognitive functions, than TV ads, which are processed in the same part of the brain where emotions reside.

With that in mind, Wight said, online content isn't replacing television--it's adding to it. "TV and new media are filling an evolutionary gap," he said, explaining that recent studies suggest humans initially evolved to live in "neo-cortex" communities of about 150 people. For the past 4,000 years or so, as humans created cities, that circle of friends and family dropped to about 25 people on average.

Social media is refilling that gap, he said, citing an example of BBC viewers commenting on how they watch a TV program and engage with friends on social media while the program is in progress.

Show coverage: IBCLive 2013

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