Thursday, September 06, 2012

The Hoof Beats Of Obsolescence

Last month, while I was traveling cross-country and back, I read one night, as I was catching up on news, that the proportion of Americans with smartphones zoomed past 44% and is projected to approach 60% in just a few months, up from 31% last year.

More remarkable, 74% are already using the hand helds to access location-based information in real time including a majority who use them for GPS navigation from a car or vehicle, further fueling the futile desperation by companies owning roadside billboards and their determined efforts to scrape and clear-cut more and more valuable roadside vegetation even though independent surveys now show that the ads place on these hulks now influence fewer than 1 in 10 consumers (8%) to purchase anything in a given year.

As much as we disagree on the sanctity or value of trees vs. the needlessness of roadside billboards, I can empathize with the fear these technologies create for those whose lives and careers have been centered around something that is fast becoming extinct.

Billboard companies are just the most visible form of media to hear the ominous technological hoof beats of obsolescence.  A new study shows that 21% of TV subscribers have moved to cord-cutting or cord-shaving in just the past year.  This also applies to local television for those who access it through subscription. 

More than 60% of consumers now use time-shifting such as video on-demand weekly and 60% use social media while watching television, up 18 points from just last year.

At the same time 58% of smartphone owners and 38% of all cell phone owners use the device to “keep themselves occupied during commercials,” prompting forecasts that online ad revenue will eclipse television within just four to five years.

Technology, as well as the decline in trust for advertising in traditional media (nearly 25% in three years) along with the over-exposure individuals feel at being bombarded with 10,000 advertising messages a day, is fueling the substitution of earned media such as news articles and much more trusted and curated content on organizational websites such as the one at this link for Durham NC, where I live.

It is also spawning formation of new media such as “digital placed-based advertising” (e.g. the video ads shown inside stores etc.) that are threatening to cannibalize more intrusive and destructive media by sucking as much as 64.2% of their revenue away from outdoor advertising such as billboards and 41% away from television. 

This is only the beginning of a massive and rapid sea-change and elected officials and other policy-makers need to be wary of desperate lobbyists and other economic rent-seekers, such as those who pushed through a bill in North Carolina to sacrifice 70,000 publically-owned roadside trees, worth more than $11 billion in just ecosystem services alone (over a 50-year lifetime had they been saved.)

This is a huge sacrifice of the “common good” just so the 8% of consumers shown to use messages posted on outdoor billboards over the course of a year can be even more sure to see them.

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