This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.
Why should a viral video of a giggling mom in a Chewbacca mask frighten television executives? Because digital video is encroaching on traditional television’s biggest and last remaining advantage: the mass audience.
With more than 155 million views and counting, the four-minute Facebook video of “Chewbacca Mom” Candace Payne cracking herself up in her car while donning a mask of the Star Wars Wookiee might even eclipse the total U.S. viewership of the London 2012 Olympics, one of TV’s most watched sporting events. But while NBC made just a small profit on the games, after shelling out more than $1 billion for the right to air them, Facebook will scoop up 45% of ad revenue associated with Payne’s delightfully goofy viral hit—and the company didn’t spend a penny to produce it.
Digital video is delivering superior results in the areas that advertisers care about most, such as targeting, engagement and measurement. And while digital ad spending still doesn’t approach the total spent on broadcast commercials, major brands are shifting their advertising dollars away from TV faster than most people realize. In a brief that I wrote with my colleague Danny Hong last year, we discuss findings from a recent Bain study, which show that fewer marketers consider TV to be among their top five advertising channels—the first time that has ever happened.
With billions of dollars at stake, what can television’s content creators and distributors do to successfully compete? Here are four steps TV executives would be wise to take.
Anticipate and meet marketers’ changing needs. Digital outlets have invested heavily to understand the latest trends and preferences among advertisers—which have more options than ever when it comes to reaching audiences. TV companies need to keep up and adjust their sales models accordingly.
Get a handle on analytics. What’s the biggest advantage digital media offers to marketers? It’s precision targeting and measurement. While television still casts the widest net, you could conceivably advertise online to a very select group, say, 31-year-old women who have recently applied for a credit card and live in an area with a particular zip code. What’s more, you can see exactly how many of those women viewed your ad, for how long and whether they bought something afterward.
Television networks need to step up their game and get a better sense of viewer demographics, usage and preferences, even if that means partnering with data collection firms or cable providers. Once they have that data in hand, networks can generate insights about their audiences to make better use of ad inventories and deliver the analytics that marketers expect.
Cable and satellite TV companies, meanwhile, have access to customer data through users’ set-top boxes, but in many cases, they’re squandering it. They need to determine how best to monetize and share this data with others in the TV industry and, eventually, use their proprietary analytics to help networks better price and package their ad inventories.
Invest in the future of TV ad platforms. Even as content creators and distributors improve upon their digital channels, they should continue to develop better ad-serving capabilities and real-time bidding platforms for their traditional TV ad inventories. This is a defensive move that may yield limited short-term returns, but it presents a major long-term opportunity for the players that carve out some real estate for themselves at the intersection of television and digital media.
Work with friends and rivals alike. In response to the existential threat that digital advertising presents to traditional television, networks and distributors need to look past old rivalries and collaborate to meet this challenge. Competing networks should consider partnering with one another to pool their inventories, gain advantages of scale and invest in better large-scale ad-delivery platforms. Instead of butting heads over programming fees, cable companies and networks could share data to help one another succeed against a common challenge. These types of collaborations require strong executive leadership and thoughtful structuring. And going it alone simply isn’t a workable strategy anymore.
Charlie Kim is a partner with Bain & Company in New York. He leads the Media practice in the Americas.