Commercials Increase Enjoyment Of TV Shows?

from the alternative-explanations dept

In a study that the television industry must absolutely love, researchers apparently found that people enjoyed a sitcom with commercials included by a significant margin over watching the same show without the commercials. Of course, before jumping to conclusions about such a study, it’s worth thinking about alternative explanations other than the idea that people really like commercials. In the Freakonomics post above, they posit that sitcoms are written with these breaks in mind — and the story arc reflects that. Taking the commercials out could make the show feel slightly disjointed. I know I’ve sometimes felt that way when watching DVDs of TV shows. In fact, I would imagine that a similar study comparing movies shown without commercials and those with commercials abruptly inserted might return the opposite results — with the version with commercials greatly disliked compared to the movie without.

Another potential explanation could just be the way we view watching sitcoms — where we’ve been somewhat conditioned for those regular breaks. We’re used to them, and being able to do something during them (go to the bathroom, get a snack, talk to a significant other/kids/parents), and taking them out so that the entire show goes straight messes with our own expectations. If that latter idea is correct, then it would suggest that having people watch a show where they could fast forward via DVR through the commercials should still be quite enjoyable, because they still get the break and still can do those “other” things during the breaks rather than actually watching the commercials. In other words, it may be that people like the breaks, not the commercials.

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Comments on “Commercials Increase Enjoyment Of TV Shows?”

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Rd says:


Um…er…yeah…..while I usually agree with you on most things, this article is a load of tripe. Sorry, but NO ONE (or nearly no one) actually WANTS commercials or even misses them when watching stuff on DVD. Sure, it might FEEL like something is missing, but come on, no one is PINING for commercials to be put back in tv shows. And anyone wanting a break will HIT THE FSKING PAUSE BUTTON, not sit there and pontificate, “gee, if only there was a break in this show so I could go potty.” Come on, really. Commercials only serve the purposes of the advertisers, not the consumers. British TV shows run without commercials, and no one seems to be “greatly disliking” them. This is so obviously industry-sponsored propaganda masquerading as “research” I cant believe you would even attempt to “explain” it in this manner. Sorry, FAIL.

ChurchHatesTucker (profile) says:

Re: Uh...

“Sorry, but NO ONE (or nearly no one) actually WANTS commercials or even misses them when watching stuff on DVD. Sure, it might FEEL like something is missing, but come on, no one is PINING for commercials to be put back in tv shows.”

Maybe not PINING, but you admit that it feels wrong when commercials are omitted. Most stories are built with these “act breaks” in mind, so it seems natural to have them. I’m a big fan of the Star Trek fanfilms, and when I burn them to DVD, I usually include a “commercial” between acts (usually a spoof or vintage commercial.)

Luke StackWalker says:

Re: Uh...


How DARE you call my wife NO ONE? She hates it when I FF thru commercials on shows that are DVR’ed. Whilst I hate the time it takes to FF thru them on a recorded show (I actually turn this into a game to see how close to the show I can stop in the last commercial:) my better half gets annoyed since the “flow” is broken. So, sorry to you, PASS!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Uh...

I prefer to leave the commercials in. They seem to punctuate the program, I enjoy the good ones as much as the program, ignore the bad ones, and change the channel if the spokesperson yells at me.

Maybe it has to do with attention span and the ads provide a refractory break to regroup and assimilate. Or maybe it is like a painting. An artist cannot convey bright very well, if there are no shadows.

And sometimes they even tell me something new that I really wanted to learn.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Uh...

Um…er…yeah…..while I usually agree with you on most things, this article is a load of tripe. Sorry, but NO ONE (or nearly no one) actually WANTS commercials or even misses them when watching stuff on DVD. Sure, it might FEEL like something is missing, but come on, no one is PINING for commercials to be put back in tv shows

Hi RD. Um… er… yeah. Maybe read the post again. No one said that people WANT the commercials or PINES for them. The study just showed that people enjoyed the show more with commercials… and then I explained a bunch of explanations for why that might be… all of which AGREE with you, that it has nothing to do with the commercials.

Jeff Rife says:

Re: Re: Uh...

This is a fairly timely report, because many studies have shown that not only do people enjoy watching the commercials during the Super Bowl, but even rewind their DVRs to watch again.

If people dislike and avoid (either by leaving the room or skipping with a DVR) most commercials, but enjoy watching commercials during the Super Bowl, then advertisers need to look at why that happens. It’s pretty easy to see…the commercials during the Super Bowl are entertaining.

But, except for the insane per-minute cost charged by the network airing the Super Bowl, there is very little difference in the actual cost or technical quality of the commercials…only the content is better.

So, basically the Super Bowl commercials are the reason that commercial avoidance has become popular in general. It has raised our expectations for the quality of the content to the point that we won’t watch unless they are good. And, people have realized that there really isn’t anything special about a commercial during the Super Bowl that couldn’t be done at any time during the year, so we avoid the crappy commercials and watch the good ones.

This is generally true for *all* content, but content providers haven’t figured that out, and feel that DRM and other restrictions are the correct answer to prop up their failing business model, when the reality is that good content makes people desire it, and people will pay for that content in some way.

P.S. I have used the term “Super Bowl” numerous times in this post, and so I expect both Techdirt and I will be hearing from NFL lawyers who have no real understanding of trademark laws.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Uh...

While stationed overseas, I learned how much content is really contained in US commercials. After being gone for a year, and forced to endure nothing but AFRTS “commercials”, I enjoyed the real commercials more than most of the programs. My wife couldn’t understand, and I’m not really sure I can explain, but the commercials were as, if not more interesting and entertaining.

taocow says:

and we all live in a land of rainbows and ponies...

honestly, whenever one of these studies comes out it just boggles the mind, unless you picture the standard media model purist like john turturro begging for his life in miller’s crossing. “pllllease! they love the commercials! i’m telling you! look in to your heart, for god’s sake!”

i think you’re dead on – what people are reacting to is the breaks, not the ads. sitcoms are written with that break in mind (the big laugh before the break being called the “blow”. nice).

but media companies have to believe just as much as the big ad agencies do because if they don’t, tinkerbell will die.

Griffyn says:

Re: and we all live in a land of rainbows and ponies...

I think people react unfavourably to having their expectations not met more than anything else. Having a show skip straight on past the obvious point where commercials would be inserted is unexpected to most people.

Sometimes late night TV will jam a often-repeated show in and simply skip some of the commercial breaks. Other breaks are drastically reduced to just one 30 second or 60 second commercial. It’s weird. It kinda feels like the show is being rushed, like eating an icecream super quick rather than slowing down and enjoying it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Commercials are valuable in old programs

I have a library of MST3K that I recorded when first aired in the 90’s. The commercials are almost as interesting as the programs. They are an interesting insight into the times.
For instance – no URL’s. A commercial that relys on the viewer calling an 800 number and them sending information is an anacronism. Same for Collect Call services – 1800 COLLECT – in a world of cell phones who makes collect calls anymore? Fascinating.

ToySouljah says:

Re: Commercials are valuable in old programs

lol…I was thinking of older commercials as well. I had a nostalgic moment about a year ago when someone posted old vintage commercials as well as some from as recently as the 90’s. Great fun to watch and laugh at how far we have come. I saw an old one for Masters of the Universe action figures that blew me away 🙂

Verse says:

Commercials suck, no matter how you try to brand it (‘break time’?!?). DVD’s and Tivo type set-ups of Television shows are great for this very reason, if you want a break, it should be pause-on-demand.

This article is disappointing. Everybody know commercials are the main contribution to funding shows, don’t attempt to put a lighter side on the point. They are a forced by-product of free television and unforgivably apart of pay-television, for what justifiable reason I’m unsure.

Jon L (user link) says:

well, tough luck

unless you’re all willing to pay (upfront) for people to produce professional level content (some of which is worth paying for, some is not… given); then live with the advertising.

It’s the only real option that anyone wanting to tell a story *and* pay they rent has in the world of media production. We either need our audience to pay to watch, or for advertisers to pay for the audience to watch for free… just giving it away; right away only works if you’re wealthy enough to fund production out of your own pocket. (And by the way, I’ve done a lot of production, from super cheap $10k to $5m, and even if it’s $10k, who’s going to just pull that out of their pocket? It’s hard to do for the average producer, honestly).


Re: well, tough luck

> unless you’re all willing to pay (upfront) for people
> to produce professional level content (some of which is
> worth paying for, some is not… given); then live with
> the advertising.

The fact that they chose to use an older prime-time sitcom for this little test of theirs was hilarious.

For shows like “Happy Days”, you are only likely to see the whole show unmangled is by buying it outright.

FCC rules about commercials have gotten more and more lax over the years to the point where and older show can be mangled beyond recognition by a contemporary broadcaster.

My like the MCE user, my MythTV household tends to just watch stuff acquired from store bought DVD’s. This is despite the fact that we can record the same shows off cable.

Sometimes we will watch the original and then the recorded-from-TV version and make a game out of seeing what they cut out of the original.

It’s sad when you watch a show from the 60’s that you saw in the 90’s on TV in reruns and notice that there are MORE things missing.

Matt says:

Adult Swim/other countries

There are places that don’t have these shitty excuses for a 20 minute show being stretched to 30 minutes. Adult swim does a thing where it’s basically 3 minutes of ads before a show, a 10second-60 break mid-show for their own created advertisements (which are funny/clever), and then ads after the show is over. So you weren’t forced to sit through (prior to tivo) the commercials if you didn’t want to. Start watching at 3:33 and leave at 3:53 and you don’t have to watch any commercials.

Japan does some kind of similar idea for anime, most of the commercials are before the show starts/after it ends. Only in the US do we shove horrible ads down people’s throats as an excuse for revenue.

Isaac K (profile) says:


That was exactly what the study proposed – I read up on it from a different news source.
It wasn’t the commercials THEMSELVES, but rather the break from the story arc that the viewers enjoy. It allows the brain to relax a bit. Commercials just utilize that period of relaxation to plug their product while keeping the viewer entertained.

A good counter study could check the effects of movies adapted for television, viewing them with and without the commercials. Since cinema is designed to be seen in one shot, it would be interesting to see if the same situation applies: that people prefer TV-adapted movies with the commercials/breaks inserted rather than removed.

Anybody up for writing up a grant and arranging that study?

Joseph Durnal (user link) says:


I recently received the first season of 24 on DVD as a gift. I’ve been watching it lately. If you know the show, they show the clock just before and just after a commercial break. Well, the clock is still there, with a quick fade to black for a second or two, then the clock returns about 4 or 5 minutes from where it was a second ago. When I see the clock, my mind is conditioned to get up and do something, like grab a drink or go to the bathroom, because I watch the show at its regularly scheduled time too.

I really don’t know what to make of it. I’d say that watching it on DVD is a little better, because you can watch an hour show in about 40 minutes. But, without commercials, it does seem like something isn’t right.

Here is a thought; maybe they could add value to the DVDs by adding scenes that occur during what would normally be a commercial break. Of course, these scenes couldn’t be critical to the overall plot, but in the 15 to 20 minutes of commercials per episode, you could have an entire sub plot, and give people a reason to buy the DVDs, even if they watched the show on TV the year before.

Pat says:

TV commercials

I recall back in the 80’s when Philly Mayor Wilson Goode was selling the virtues of cable TV to Philadelphia residents. He promised “commercial free pay TV”. What a joke on us.
I am so sick of watching commercials on TV that I have to pay for. Some of the commercial actors have become so familiar because I see them so often, I expect to see them at my Thanksgiving table.
How do we rid ourselves of these annoyances?

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