Newsflash: People Don't Want Commercials!

I read an article about the major networks suing Dish, because the Hopper features an option to watch previously aired programs commercial free.....and people really like it! How is this even news to the major networks? Don't know about anybody else, but I am completely DVR addicted, and fast forwarding through commercial breaks is a natural body function. I rarely watch live TV any longer. We live in a world of continual time pressures. If I sat through the umpteen repeats of the same commercial, I would never see an entire show. Besides, I have actually used my DVR to do a somewhat less than scientific survey of how much time during my favorite programs is eaten up with commercials.

The article in question was occassioned by Twitter posts from Kaley, of Big Bang fame. I guess that being famous in a network sitcom, and being paid huges sums of money for attracting huge audiences means that you also lose your right to publicly express opinions. I am a fan of Big Bang Theory, but I assure the networks that I am not tuning in to watch commercials for prescription drugs that I am supposed to run right out and discuss with my doctor. In fact, on the rare occassions that I might sit down to watch a live episode, I can pretty well guarantee that I will nod off during the first commercial break, effectively missing the balance of my program, waking up a couple hours later, completely disoriented because I am watching yet the same commercial again that had me nodding off in the first place.

Recently, I used the time bar at the bottom of the screen to guage exactly how much of my viewing time is spent, or not spent, depending upon my lightning reflexes with the remote, watching a program versus the commercial breaks. When setting up the DVR, you can program the device to record from scheduled start time to the scheduled end time as posted in the guide. For Big Bang Theory, it is supposed to be 33 minutes. Well, when you hit the play button, you are guaranteed at least two to three commercials before the program even begins...so we are already anywhere from 90 seconds to three minutes shy of the full recorded time. Then comes the setup, the teaser, introducing you to the premise of the episode, and for a half hour program, that is seldom more than 3 minutes. The program will continue, alternating between brief snippets of interaction and conversation among the characters, and ever increasing commercial breaks. On the one episode, in which I attempted to keep track, the actual program consisted of approximately 18 minutes. And we wonder why children have the attention span of a gnat on speed.

I get the idea that advertising dollars drive the programming on network TV. Heck, they even drive the cable and premium feeds now. Where I used to enjoy escaping to cable networks, when commercials were put in between shows, but the programs themselves were largely uninterupted, I now find the cable feeds to be equally guilty of cutting down theprogram to fit the commercials. What I don't understand is that Madison Avenue hasn't figured out that the advertising might have a greater impact if the people were truly grateful for quality programming courtesy of the sponsors....I was a little kid, but I remember that the favorite shows in our family were associated with a specific sponsor, and I can remember those products being in the shopping cart every week.

Even public televsion has allowed its programming to be pre-empted with commercials. Masterpiece theater used to be a full hour every week. You can note the difference if you have a Netflix feed at home. If you call up programs which were done back in the 1970's or early to mid 1980"s on public television, those episodes are significantly longer in duration. Perhaps that is why we have to go to Netflix to view them, because the constraints of commercials would not allow the episode to fit within the time slot allocated. In other words, there really wouldn't be a TV schedule, but a TV approximation. If you fit all the required ads into those full hour episodes, you would suddenly have programs that ran for an hour and 18 minutes. That doesn't fit well into the spread sheet grid.

But honestly, who among us does not avoid the commercials? Even prior to remotes, apps, netflix, and the blessing of DVR, commercials were the time for going to the bathroom, (ask any major city's water and sewer department what happens at half time of the Super Bowl), talking on the phone, getting a snack, letting the dog out, checking homework, finishing dishes....pretty much anything other than watching the blessed commercials. And a commercial has to be pretty clever, pretty creative to even catch our attention at all. Even so, after about the 20th repeat, we are heading to the bathroom and kitchen during our favorite commercials.

And just think about it. Madison Avenue has tried to turn the Super Bowl into a "commercial fest", trying to build our enthusiasm for commercials over the event itself by saving all the catchy and clever stuff for the Super Bowl. And in the past couple of years, it seems to have backfired on them. Some pretty heavy hitters in the sponsorship department elected not to participate in the Super Bowl mystique and pay the outrageous fees for time slots above and beyond the expense of trying to come up with the glitziest commercial of the bunch. For true sports fans, it is an offense, because sports in real time do not take 4-7 minute breaks for commercials. My husband gets truly frustrated, because the Madison Avenue types expect him to believe that nothing is happening on the ice during a Stanley Cup playoff game while the virtues of Ford pick up trucks and Chevy SUV's are being tauted. If he was sitting in the stadium, he would be watching men play hockey.

I am relatively certain that I have been turned off to more products and services by continual interuption to the programs I wish to watch, than I have been encouraged to try or buy a given product. Sorry, but that is the way it is. I could handle commercials before the program, featuring the sponsorship of that program, and might even pay attention. I could reasonably accept a "halftime" break to feature the sponsor, and of course another kudo to sponsorship at the conclusion of the episode. But it is pretty much brow beating me to expect that I watch the same commercial, four times or more, during the space of one half hour, and as I don't like to be hit over the head, I am likely to avoid the product rather than embrace it. Am I the only one that thinks this way? If I can recite all the potential side effects and disclaimers of a particular wonder drug, you are pretty well darn sure that I am NOT asking my doctor if it is the right prescription for me....by paying attention to the commercials, I have come to the conclusion that the illness is less threatening than the cure.

So our favorite wannabe actress from the Big Bang theory stated what most of us grumble and complain about. We don't appreciate the limited time that we have for entertainment to be co-opted for continuous loops of the same commercials. I guess according to the network, busy suing Dish to prevent them from giving customers what the customers actually want, Kaley has committed a huge faux pas. Well, I for one, and more than happy to forgive her, and suggest that the networks take a long hard look at their approach to advertising and sponsorship. People have been finding new and creative methods around commercials form quite some time. This isn't new and it isn't news. Streaming episodes online, cable channels, premium channels, The DVR, and before that, the programable VCR-(remember program codes in the TV Guide?).

If networks need the good will of viewers to drive the financial aspects of programming and network success, then they might finally notice that less might well be more in the case of commercials. Don't let a commercial become so overplayed that it sounds like the adult voices in a Peanuts cartoon. Even the cutest ideas wear thin over time. Grandma used to say, "Familiarity breeds contempt." And with regard to over played commercials, she is absolutely right. Should the networks win their lawsuits, I might suggest that we all take up the old school entertainment of reading, but the average magazine is every bit as bad as commercials on television.

Filed under: Musings, Side Journeys

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  • According to Mark Twain, familiarity also breeds children.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    Are you suggesting that commercials breed children? It is an interesting concept, particularly as the commercial breaks get longer and longer. We could potentially experience a new Baby Boom. So, the DVR and the fast forward on the remote might well, by that definition, be viewed as birth control and hence not appropriate behavior for strict Roman Catholics

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