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DTC in Perspective: The Enduring Health of Television

For many years  media pundits have predicted the end of broadcast/cable television as both a dominant medium and as a successful seller of ad space. As a DTC information provider we at DTC Perspectives are media agnostic. We believe in DTC but do not choose one advertising medium to favor. That neutrality has us question the media pundits that say television is a dinosaur waiting to be hit by an extinction event. Every year at the DTC National I ask new media presenters why drug marketers still spend so much on mass media if digital/mobile is replacing it. They usually say drug companies are slow adopters and their agencies steer them to television because it is easier to buy.

Bob Ehrlich

“Television use… has never been stronger…”
-Bob Ehrlich

I usually push back to say drug marketers and their agency associates are smart folks and would not use a medium that does not work. After all, their career success is based on drug sales response to their media selections. They use television because it generates a strong ROI and  can have a fast market share impact. It also puts pressure on insurers to cover reimbursement and motivates doctors to learn about a drug faster.

Despite the dire predictions, television use for DTC advertisers has never been stronger. The latest Nielsen data show television got 68% of the spending in 2015. Nielsen does not measure point of care and understates Internet spending. If we add those numbers  which trade sources say are about $500 million for point of care and around $250 million for Internet, then we have about $6 billion in total spending with television still comprising 59%.

Why has television remained dominant when other industries have spent much more in digital? There are several reasons for the wide use of television for DTC advertisers. Most important is the age of the majority of prescription drug users. The largest drug categories are dominated by older users. They do use the Internet a lot but still watch more television than younger folks. Second, drug ads can be executed well in the 60 second television ad unit and still meet regulatory requirements. In other words television allows for motivating messages. Third, DTC is serious information and that is why the drug makers dominate network, and cable news shows.

I should mention that print spending is still quite healthy. FDA still requires a print brief summary source be mentioned in the television ad. While print titles are declining those that remain are seeing over $1.5 billion in revenue from DTC advertisers.

The health of television does not mean drug marketers are ignoring digital and point of care. New techniques are growing in each area. Point of Care has exploded, and digital is finding a way to introduce drug and disease awareness despite FDA limitations.

I am sure many media pundits in 1997 would be surprised to see television so strong in 2016. Time shifting through DVR devices, Netflix, on-demand options, as well as competition from game apps were predicted to drastically reduce broadcast television use. While teens and millennials may be watching less, and shifting to watching their television on demand, the drug using  baby boomers and their parents still watch a lot of broadcast and cable. Of course eventually the pundits may be correct and television as we know it will be extinct, but it looks like a decades away event.

Bob Ehrlich
Chairman & Chief Executive Officer at DTC Perspectives
Bob Ehrlich has over 20 years marketing experience in pharmaceutical and consumer products. Bob is the CEO of DTC Perspectives, Inc., a DTC services company founded in 2000. DTC Perspectives, Inc. developed the DTC National Conference, the largest DTC conference in the industry. DTC Perspectives, Inc. also publishes DTC Perspectives, a quarterly journal dedicated to DTC issues and practices. In addition DTC Perspectives, Inc. does DTC consulting for established and emerging companies, and provides DTC marketing plans for pharmaceutical companies.
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