Cabler personifies new dilemma for programmers

The good news for cable channel G4 is that its viewership is basically 18-34-year-old men, arguably the most coveted demographic in the ad biz.

The bad news: Those males aren’t watching TV much. And though they’re viewing the network’s programming via the Internet, podcasts and mobile devices, the Comcast-owned channel hasn’t yet figured out a way to monetize those elusive numbers into bigger ad rates.

All the nets are dealing with this problem to varying degrees, but none may be as affected as G4, which targets what is perhaps the tech-savviest demo on television. The channel thinks it’s come up with a great solution. Now all they have to do is get Madison Avenue to buy it.

The Comcast-owned G4, started in 2002, is available on cable in 62 million homes. It’s a network of games, gear, gadgets and gigabytes. Programs include “Attack of the Show” and videogame roundup “X Play,” which are popular with twentysomething guys.

For years, networks and cablers complained that ratings didn’t accurately measure the number of viewers in such spaces as bars and college dorms. Now as Nielsen has worked to solve that problem, G4 personifies the new dilemma for programmers: How to measure audiences that are migrating to new platforms.

According to Neal Tiles, president of the channel, G4 delivers an average of 6 million-7 million viewers per podcast, but many of those are not watching on flat-screen TVs. “We’re definitely doing more nonlinear impressions than we are doing linear,” Tiles says.

Despite ongoing efforts by companies including Nielsen Media Research to develop new audience tracking systems, it’s proving difficult to effectively measure nontraditional viewership. This makes mixed-platform advertising packages difficult to negotiate and sell to media-agency TV buyers.

The cabler has developed something it calls G4 Multiplex, in which advertisers can buy commercials that will air on the channel’s different platforms. The U.S. Navy has signed on as a sponsor, touting its recruitment ads to viewers in the various new-tech platforms.

But G4 isn’t having an easy time selling to other sponsors, even ones so clearly targeted at their demographics.

“It will be a problem for them to monetize these new platforms until the numbers have the quality that the TV ratings have,” says Shari Ann Brill, senior VP and director of programming services for media agency Carat USA. “Once we see broadband metrics that are on par with what we see on the TV side, it will be a lot easier to evaluate the entire package.”

Concurs Aaron Cohen, chief negotiating officer for media buying shop Horizon Media: “If there was a system that could combine total impressions, I’d be happy to consider it, but it doesn’t exist.” Cohen adds he doesn’t expect such an all-encompassing measurement scheme to be fully baked any time soon.

Tiles concedes that the day when networks are able to freely sell their wares across devices probably won’t occur until TV’s broader viewership base adopts G4 consumption habits.

That said, he believes his networks’ negotiating position could be improved in the here-and-now if advertisers were more informed about such mixed-platform buys.

Large brands often employ different media agencies — or different teams within large agencies — to buy TV and digital media, with the latter units probably less skittish about purchasing inventory on newer, less-measurable platforms.

Frequently, these advertisers aren’t aware they could be saving money by orchestrating their purchases in a more combined fashion, Tiles says.

“We need to show (advertisers) that there are efficiencies in purchasing these platforms together,” Tiles explains. “We need to show them that if you need to reach young guys, we go to the places where you find them.”

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