Ad support is bad support | Pakistan Today

Ad support is bad support

  • Streaming services outmanoeuvring broadcast television

By Amna Khan

A girl sipping her tea on a rooftop covered with fairy lights, staring romantically into the skyline describes the ‘Sooper’ cookies advert that really took me back to simpler times. No forced use of technology, hyperactive communication, obnoxious use of jingles or pressure for consumption- just simplicity at its best. I can’t even remember the last time a smile came to my lips from watching a TV ad. Funny story; I recreated a replica of this moment on my rooftop that very night reminiscing about the ‘simplest’ of times.

Times unpunctuated by consumption fever where family, success and wealth were not symbolised by cooking oil, washing powders and fairness creams. Times when television programmes were less frequently interrupted by advertising entities; those bearing the heavy costs of their production. It was the simplest of times really, when one could be fooled into believing that all is good in the world and will remain so, indefinitely. The absence of black screens both big and small from our lives best explain the power they wield in the present world. ‘Fifteen Million Merits’ an episode of Black Mirror explains it like no other, your attention, your thoughts, every kilojoule of energy you spend in your waking hours is not free. You pay for it by the price of interruption, because your mind is worth much more than any perceivable amount you could pay to skip that YouTube ad altogether.

Our attention is priceless and the best time for an ad to take the value of our time without our consent is when we’re immersed in an absorbing TV show. Ads can be a boon or bane depending on whether it’s time for you to take a bathroom break. However, the kaleidoscopic proportions at which today’s ad’s function is undoubtedly the reason why people stopped watching TV altogether and this gave way to internet television.

Eventually streaming services will outmanoeuvre broadcast mediums because of their ability to choke off advertising & create captivating programming to retain a loyal viewership. Brands recognise the power of social media and are shrewdly switching the bulk of their ad revenue to Facebook and Instagram. It could be how the audiences who enjoy broadcast are simply too old and unfazed by the appeal of making purchases or that their children seem too distracted by Instagram to watch what’s happening on the TV playing in front of them. Or maybe it’s the convenience of redirecting our attention with the tap of a finger to the e-commerce website that just showed you the pants you said you were just looking for. Most likely it seems it’s the simple fact of brands saving money by targeting only people with disposable income to spend and owning a smartphone is the bare minimum to qualify as a prospective customer with purchasing potential.

Engagement with ad supported content has become a liability where it had been used as a means of survival for so long in Pakistani media- it can’t be used as a crutch anymore

The biggest benefit of the advertising supported revenue model of social media platforms is that if you have an audience, you can almost always find companies who are willing to pay to reach them. However, attracting users by free content, tailor made in accordance with their tastes, might only continue to work for such entities. The redundancy of Pakistani broadcast viewership coupled with the harsh reality of Instagram itself being the means to an end is something we don’t consciously consider. Every online business model assumes the ‘online’ aspect a permanent arrangement.

If Instagram goes down, we all go down with it. However we presume it is flawless, even some would say infallible. Where ‘advertising’ for Silicon Valley based companies is a means to hypnotise users into staying logged in, Pakistan’s cringe inducing ads rationalise the existence of complacent programming. Airing lousy drama’s doesn’t really matter because producers are already getting paid by advertisers so why bother with quality control? Successful media entities prefer multiple revenue streams to avoid financial collapse. Advertising revenues are unreliable. Advertisers can detract their investments considering the plethora of devices and channels people consume content from in today’s media ecosystem. Engagement with ad supported content has become a liability where it had been used as a means of survival for so long in Pakistani media- it can’t be used as a crutch anymore. When the technology used 20 years ago is outdated, how can we expect the media to survive on principles equally as old?

For streaming services like Netflix, Amazon & HBO, the brand itself is the ad that prompts people for further consumption. Subscription rates is what quantifies a time well spent, respecting customers for the value of their money is company policy. Where at present there is trouble in breaking even for some of these companies, the long-term plans are set in motion. Imitating the Chinese policy of patiently bearing losses in the short term for long term results. The Chinese outbid the market on manufactured goods by selling below market price for several years before successfully becoming an economic global power. Similarly, Netflix seems to be paying the price of future excellence in present losses. That’s the ‘Catch 22’ to succeeding in the media industry; the considerable degree of cultural clout it yields is not translated in how much we the consumer spend to access it. Then again, I guess that’s what simpler times are really supposed to exemplify – authentic and honest programming devoid of disruptions, free of cost, without repercussions. Skip Ad in 3… 2… 1.

The writer is a freelance columnist.