Today’s column was originally published in MediaPost and continues in the extended entry.

THE WRITERS GUILD OF AMERICA launched its long-awaited strike. How will this event affect
marketers, search engines, and consumers’ online media behavior? SEMCO, the
union for search engine marketing columnists, hasn’t quite caught on, so I’m
remaining on the job to answer these questions and more.

Most consumers aren’t going to care about the WGA strike, and
they’re not going to notice it anytime soon. Google’s Hot Trends showed no
mention of the strike or the WGA Friday, Saturday (when the strike was
announced), or Sunday. On Monday November 5, the term "writers
strike" finally made
an appearance at number 52
at "medium hotness," or a mere two
bars out of five, well behind other entries that day including references to
Food Network star Giada de Laurentiis expecting a baby girl, Google’s Android
mobile platform announcement, and the shooting of a rare albino deer in
Minnesota. As much as Americans love TV, our patience quickly tires of labor
disputes unless they’re mediated by Oprah, Dr. Phil, or Kim Kardashian (an
aside: a colleague came in here while I was Googling Kardashian’s name to check
the spelling, leading me to wonder whether my colleague or Google is my greater
privacy concern).

Here are some predictions of what should happen with search and
online media if this strike lasts a few months:

Some TV-related searches decline.
While it’s on the air, a
program like "The Late Show with David Letterman" will inspire people
to search for a number of reasons:

· To find out when a guest will be on the air

· To look up his daily Top Ten list

· To search for the video or a transcript of a funny segment they saw
or heard about from someone else

Traditional media, especially television, is one of the best ways
to drive searching, and that fuel source will keep drying up the longer the
strike persists.

Online activities won’t change dramatically.
If new content
stopped appearing on most Web sites for several months, people would probably
start watching more TV. It doesn’t work out so neatly the other way around. At
home, it’s common for people to go online while watching TV, so if the
background noise isn’t there, they’ll still continue their online behavior.

If some online activities do show increases over the next several
months, it will be hard to attribute much or any of that to the strike. Online
video consumption keeps increasing each month, and people keep growing more
comfortable watching full-length episodes of TV shows online. Correlating
anything will be practically impossible. If more people catch up on episodes of
"30 Rock" on the Hulu channel of AOL Video, is it because NBC is
airing more reruns in case of a prolonged strike, or is it because AOL Video is
now featuring more full-length episodes, thus making them more accessible?

Entertainment marketers will more aggressively promote online offerings.

Entertainment marketers usually have a set goal with each of their online
campaigns: promote their online content, or drive people to consume media
offline (tune in to TV shows, watch a movie in the theaters). It won’t be a
perfectly clean shift of budgets going from trying to drive tune-in to trying
to drive Web traffic, as the budgets are usually run by different departments.
However, given the importance marketers place on staying relevant to their
audiences, expect some degree of a shift to happen when tune-in goals become

Display advertising will benefit far more than search from such a
shift, as will behavioral marketing programs like retargeting. As mentioned in
the first point, searches should gradually decline for shows airing only
reruns, so marketers will need to find other ways to generate awareness.

There will also be some marketers tapping into Plan C for
entertainment marketers: promoting commerce. Comedy Central has a greatest hits
DVD out for "The Colbert Report," along with Colbert’s book "I
Am America (And So Can You!)." All this can help maintain the relevance of
the brand.

That will be the biggest challenge for entertainment — staying
relevant when there’s nothing new. It’s an especially interesting question for
Comedy Central, which just launched thedailyshow.com
with eight years of video archives but now lacks its best promotional vehicle
of a nightly show to drive people to the site. Once again, we’re faced with the
reality that search doesn’t happen in a vacuum; there’s always something
triggering it. In its own small way, one of the aftershocks of the writers’
strike is a searchers’ strike.

People reacted to this story.
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Comments to: Striking and Searching
  • Avatar
    November 8, 2007

    I don’t know who you are (yet), but after reading this post I’ve decided I should find out.
    I’d call that a pretty strong analysis of something that hasn’t even happened yet. And your kicker…man, that’s why I read blogs.
    Thanks for provoking thought.

  • Avatar
    November 10, 2007

    This is just the thing I need to justify spending $50 on Call of Duty 4. There’s nothing new on so I might as well spend time with my two college age sons. It is actually a lot more fun than watching TV together anyway. Both sons have TV sets in their rooms but rarely turn them on. Their computer monitors are better anyway.
    The big loser here will be the writers. The winners – the audience. People are going to notice that they can live without the shows and move on to other things. Some may even remember that there are books to read and DVDs they bought last year that they have not yet watched. Imagine what will happen when people realize they can control what they watch and when!
    Great analysis. I think you hit it right on the money. I hope it happens.


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