Playing with the Enemy, by Gary W. Moore
Outsell’s 2007 Information Industry Outlook

A Better Ad-Skipping Solution?

TiVo and other DVRs are a huge threat to television advertisers. The ad-skipping they enable is reducing the value of the 30-second TV spot. There’s been talk of making ads more interesting or interactive, but I have yet to hear of a solution that’s really going to prevent most viewers from skipping past them.

Rather than forcing things to work the old way, why not try a completely new approach? The typical 30-minute TV show is really only about 22 minutes of content and 8 minutes of advertising, give or take a minute or two. What if the content lasted the entire 30 minutes and the ads were displayed throughout but in an unobtrusive way? I’m not talking about product placement in the show; I’m suggesting the bottom area of the screen be used instead.

If you’ve ever watched a game on ESPN or most other networks you’ve no doubt seen the ticker at the bottom with scores from other games, news, etc. It’s displayed for the entire game on many networks these days. At first it was a bit annoying as it reduced the screen area dedicated to the game itself, but with today’s enormous screen sizes it’s not an issue. Why not use this area to display ads throughout a TV show? The benefits include:

  • The advertising message is displayed along with the show itself, meaning more eyeballs are likely to actually see it than during the 30-second spots that typically become bathroom breaks today.
  • It’s skip-proof. If you skip through the ad you’re actually skipping through the show itself.
    It enables more opportunities for advertisements tied to an event/moment in the show. For example, if someone just cracked open a can of Coke on the show, why not feature a Coke ad at the bottom of the screen, reinforcing the placement fee itself? In fact, this is likely to make the product placement that much more memorable.
  • The networks can hype the fact that viewers are getting more content than they used to (a full 30 minutes instead of today’s 22 minutes).
  • It opens the door to a completely new approach to ad creation. Yes, you’re limited to that small area at the bottom of the screen, but there are loads of things that could be done to make that message more unique and memorable than today’s commercial.

A few of the more obvious potential issues, and solutions, are as follows:

  • Viewers would hate the always-on nature of the advertising vehicle itself. But would they really, especially if it’s done right and the “no commercial break” benefit is effectively communicated?
  • Sponsors wouldn’t be willing to pay as much for these ads as they would for today’s standard 30-second spot. Ah, but there would be more of them throughout the show, so the networks “make it up in volume”. Plus, the message is displayed during the show, making the new spots more valuable to advertisers.
  • It’s distracting and annoying to viewers. If that’s true, why has the technique become so widely used for sports, news, etc.? The simple truth is that there would be some complaining at first, but viewers would quickly accept it as the norm. Plus, if networks really want to straddle the fence, they could still serve up a couple of 30-second spots between shows.
  • It doesn’t allow time for the “bathroom break” or “kitchen break” that today’s 30-second slots provide. Have we really become that lazy and predictable?! If so, and the typical viewer can’t get through a 30-minute show without a break, how in the world do they manage to watch a 2-hour movie on DVD without one? Answer: They press pause, which is exactly what anyone with a DVR can do in this model.

Finally, this approach also opens up a totally new alternative for the networks: Selling premium, commercial-free access for a monthly fee. You don’t like watching ABC with all its advertisements? How about paying $5/month for a special version of ABC without the ads? The pessimists will point out how this model could actually generate less income for the network than today’s ad-funded one does. Guess what? As I mentioned in this earlier post, the financials are changing everywhere in the content/media world, so you better be prepared to adjust your top line revenue expectations anyway.

Comments

Jim Minatel

Costs too much. The writers union, actors guild, and every other group involved would want their 36% pay increase for working an extra 36% minutes.
And honestly, there's not a comedy on TV that's funny now for 22 minutes.
Maybe they could just stretch the laugh tracks by 8 minutes.
And in dramas, I foresee, longer more dramatic dramatic pauses. :)
Would be great for fans of reality TV though: "Now with 36% more bugs eaten per episode."

Joe Wikert

I don't ever recall hearing of a TV star negotiating their contract by the minute filmed! I can see where the stage crew would have to work more, but that's got to be a pretty small part of the network's overall budget. To your point about shows not being good enough for 22 minutes of content, well, that certainly hasn't stopped people from watching all this garbage up to now.

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