How To Get People To Watch TV Ads: Don't Stop The Program While You Show Them

from the good-luck-with-that dept

TV broadcasters have long struggled with how to deal with DVRs and how they allow users to skip over commercials. Perhaps the favored approach has been to come up with technological responses to try and prevent people from fast-forwarding; fewer companies have figured out that advertising is content, and needs to be treated as such. Viewers need to be given a reason to watch ads, whether it’s simply entertainment or because the content offers some other value. Another idea that’s being tested: not stopping the show during ad breaks. On one show on CNN, when the ads start, the studio cameras keep rolling, showing “behind-the-scenes” footage in a small box in the corner. The belief is that if there’s still some bit of “program content” going, it will be enough to keep people from flipping channels or skipping ahead, even if it is just paper shuffling and makeup being touched up. It’s an interesting proposition, but once viewers realize they’re not missing anything of value, won’t they switch away or fast-forward? And if the program content actually is valuable, won’t people just not pay attention to the ads? The problem here seems to be that this is just an effort to recreate a captive audience. But without offering anything of value to the viewer — whether it’s the ads themselves or this “program content” — they’re not going to stick around and suck up the ads.

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Comments on “How To Get People To Watch TV Ads: Don't Stop The Program While You Show Them”

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Anonymous Coward says:

I love my DVR and I hate commercials. Unlike some at this site, I see no value in commercials, even those Old Spice ones that Mike likes for reasons that are beyond me. I don’t want ads mixed in with the shows I want to watch or vice-versa. Dammit, I pay for cable, lots of money every month, way too much money. I feel like I pay enough to skip the commercials. I might feel different if I was getting the TV signal for free over the air but I’m not.

I have seen a couple of shows on the Bravo network that try to thwart skipping the commericals on your DVR by having commericial length clips of the show between commercials. You get a commerical or two then a short clip of the show then more commercials then more show. Super annoying, makes it hard to skip over everything with the DVR.

Advertising is content my ass.

Robert Haas (profile) says:

Re: Tv advertising

NO programming should be allowed to be unterupted from beginning to end….Add it up for DirectTV for insstance. 30 million subs and average 100 per month… why do we have to suffer from all the bs ads anyway. DirectTV will only give you a lot of LIP service as I have tried twice.
Thanks for listening and if you share my thoughts call or email: 269 782-2454 email Tv USED to be good entertainment but with soo many interuptions I forget what it is Im watching……..

Steve R. (profile) says:

Ads Encroaching into the Program

I’ve been noticing that ads are appearing in the regular program. While not oppressive it is irritating.

Not stopping the show for some ads would be a good idea. CNBC has scrolling financial screens. When the financial data is not obliterated by the commercial, I tend to stay and watch. When the commercial obliterates the data, I leave.

BigKeithO says:

Re: Re:

TSN up in Canada does that with F1 races. The race continues but the sound is changed to the commercial sound and the screen splits into 2, same sized boxes, side by side.

Me and the wife still skip those sections of the race. Ad’s are pretty annoying, so annoying that we pretty much don’t watch live TV unless we have no other option. Everything we want to watch is PVR’d and watched when we have time.

Brooks (profile) says:


Ok, so I’m not wild about the idea. The value-add of watching someone get their makeup fixed seems very low, and like more of a novelty that might get people to watch an ad or two, not change behavior.

But this post veers dangerously close to the negative stereotypes of Techdirt and associated sites: that there’s a deep seated hatred for traditional media companies that goes beyond business.

Shouldn’t we be lauding CNN for experimentation, even if we also say that this particular idea seems unlikely to succeed? There’s way too much “oh, those idiots are at it again, look at the incredibly stupid thing they did this time” tone around here. Which is often fair, as many companies act against their self interest. But it doesn’t need to be applied in every single case, does it?

Kudos to CNN for trying something different. Maybe there are other interesting experiments to be done.

Rick says:

It’s fairly obvious few of the above commenters have seen what CNN is doing. It’s being used on John King USA, since Carlo neglected to mention it for some reason. It’s also not new.

Anyway, I like it. Besides the little mini screen of the studio, which is interesting, they also keep a News ticker going. The ticker is what keeps me watching rather than skipping or leaving the room for the commercials. All of this is packaged into a banner no larger than the standard banner on the bottom of any cable news screen. It’s very similar to how Bloomberg Newsz has done forever…

The little mini-screen is simply the studio between commercials – you dot lose the ability to actually see any content. The only content is actually the new ticker, which adds value to the commercial(s) running above the banner.

Robert Fisher (user link) says:

to be innovative....

…means they have to do some market research. And the best way to do that is experiment with ad placement through out the program being watched and then get feedback in some way.

But I think the issue here is that they are still trying to deliver ads in the traditional manner. I am no media expert, but we hear it day in and day out that the media companies are attempting to hold onto their traditional media outlets when they should be creating new innovative ways to deliver the same content and get the same or better results. it comes down to how to do this, and they should be commended for experimenting with new ways…I would just like to see it done in different more exotic ways.

Robert Haas (profile) says:

Re: So wait.....

NO programming should be allowed to be unterupted from beginning to end….Add it up for DirectTV for insstance. 30 million subs and average 100 per month… why do we have to suffer from all the bs ads anyway. DirectTV will only give you a lot of LIP service as I have tried twice.
Thanks for listening and if you share my thoughts call or email: 269 782-2454 email Tv USED to be good entertainment but with soo many interuptions I forget what it is Im watching……..Best is to list the products and services which annoy you and boycott them altogather!

stephen says:


When my wife and I watch something live, we mute the commercials and read stuff on our PDAs. This has become especially necessary during Lost this season b/c there’s an extra commercial break.

What I don’t understand is why commercials aren’t designed for fast forwarders. Instead of having quick cuts and flashing images, why not long cuts that look just as good in fast forward and convey the message silenty?

Anonymous Coward says:

I like what family guy did: they had the characters do some shtick for an ad of a major sponsor as soon as the commercial break started.

If the ad is relevant to what you’re watching, it’ll go a lot further.

Or, how about this: stop making commercials so friggin annoying. If I have to see that progressive lady one more time…

Paul Hobbs (profile) says:

Surely there can be life without ads??

First up, I hate ads. For the most part I subscribe to the definition of advertising as being an attempt by someone to persuade me to buy something I probably don’t need. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and I understand that a business with a new product or service has to let people know about that product or service somehow. I also understand that companies are competing for my dollars – whether it be toothpaste, a new car, or a pair of jeans. They obviously want to let me know why their product is better than the next guy’s. But it doesn’t change the fact that I hate ads. I also get the economic reality that advertising dollars are largely behind the development of TV shows – if ratings for a particular show drop, it means less people see the ads, which supposedly means the ads are less likely to drive sales of the product or service, so advertisers pull their ads from that show, so the show gets cancelled, etc.

But, that doesn’t seem to be how movies work. I am no economist, nor am I an entertainment industry insider, but it seems to me that movies make money directly from the paying public (not via advertising). A movie is released, and we pay to see it at the cinema – good movies make lots of money, bad movies don’t (most of the time). Perhaps that should be popular movies make money. And I agree that popular doesn’t necessarily mean good. After the cinema run, people buy the movies on DVD (not all people, but lots). I have a large (and growing) DVD collection (over 200); I also love going to the cinema (although with two young children I don’t go as often as I would like); and I freely admit that I occasionally download a movie via bit torrent. The point is that over the years I have spent thousands of dollars on movies, and I fully expect to spend many more thousands in the years to come. The other thing to note is that there are no ads DURING the movie – sure there are ads before the movie starts, but the movie is not interrupted by ads, and if you really don’t want to see the ads, you can stand outside the cinema until the ads are finished.

I personally agree with a lot of what Jerry Mander wrote in his book “Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television”. In my view, TV has become little more than a moving billboard. It’s PRIMARY function seems to be to sell stuff. TV shows are merely there to fill the space between ads. Even the news isn’t really news – it is basically just useless trivia – a house burned down in town X; two people died in a car accident today; etc. I am reminded of Steve Martin’s character in “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” when he is giving John Candy a tongue lashing: “If you’re going to tell a story, here’s an idea. Have a point!” If the news is going to tell me about something, have a reason (other than that it is “sensational” and is of interest from a purely voyeuristic perspective).

I only watch a handful of TV shows (and none of them is the news) – in my opinion, most TV is unmitigated crap. I would happily pay a fee of some kind to have access to the TV shows I like, on the condition that they were ad-free. Why don’t I just subscribe to cable, you ask? Several reasons: it isn’t available in my street; it has ads; I am locked in to a minimum 12 month contract; I can’t pick and choose the shows I want – I have to choose a channel (or a package of channels), where most of the shows are of no interest to me.

I want to present an alternative view of how TV might work. Let’s suppose there was no advertising on TV. Or perhaps only community service announcements from the government. Obviously the funding stream for TV shows would dry up, so if we want to continue watching TV, we need to find an alternative way to fund production. What if it was basically the same as movies? Suppose you could buy access to specific TV shows, just like you pay for a ticket to see a specific movie. I don’t know what the price point would be to make it viable. Maybe actors would have to accept reduced salaries to keep production costs down. In principle I accept the notion that an actor should be able to demand whatever they want for a role. But I would rather be an actor who works regularly for $10,000 per episode, than an actor who is out of work because I demand $100,000 per episode. I remember reading that the cast of Friends were getting paid $1,000,000 each, per episode. Frankly, that seems crazy to me. As an aside, it seems to say something interesting about our values if we pay comedy actors millions of dollars, but we pay teachers and nurses pitiful wages – but that is a separate conversation. Getting back to the original topic (buying TV shows), I don’t know if people would accept such an idea. But if it did happen, I can see several things resulting from this approach.
1. There would be fewer TV shows being made (which in my opinion is a good thing cos most of them are crap). People would be forced to be more judicious about what they watch if they have to pay for it. It astounds me how many truly bad TV shows are made. Granted, they are on at 2:00 in the morning, but still, someone pays those actors and crew and writers to make this drivel. Personally, I wouldn’t be at all upset if that kind of crap just disappeared. Ah – but now I’m being elitist, you say, and only the shows that I like should be made. Well, not really. If enough people like it enough to pay for it, it would continue to get made.
2. The price of products and services would drop (or should drop) because the cost of advertising is not baked into the price
3. People would watch less TV – this can only be a good thing. People would go out more, read more, play more sport, etc. Or maybe they would just spend more time watching YouTube videos.

How would it work? Suppose FOX wanted to make a new TV show – say a new drama about Lawyers (cos we don’t have enough of those). They make the first episode and I can watch the first episode for free. Or maybe the first 3 episodes are free to watch. But if I want to watch any more, I have to pay. Perhaps I even have to pay for the first three in order to watch any more. If enough people like it, and decide to buy the show, it will continue to be made. If people stop buying it, it presumably means that the story is no longer of interest, so it gets cancelled. OR, perhaps FOX can solicit feedback from the subscribers as to what could be done to improve the show. Maybe shows would only have a life span of just one or two seasons so they remain fresh, instead of running for 7 or 8 seasons (or more) and becoming stale.

Like I said earlier, I’m not an economist so I don’t know if this idea is viable. I’m sure I’m not the first one to think of it. I also don’t know the detailed mechanics of how it would work – Do you pay for each individual show or do you pay for a whole series up front, or just a block of shows (say 5 at a time)? Who do you pay? The broadcaster or the network making the show? Years ago I read a very interesting article which proposed a model that might solve this and other related problems (eg: music “piracy”). If my ADSL service cost me an extra $10 or even $20 per month, but it meant I had unlimited access to music, TV shows and movies, all of it free of ads, I would pay it in a heart beat.

Sorry for the long comment.

Paul Hobbs (profile) says:

Re: Surely there can be life without ads??

I suppose I should have somehow made a connection to the original story about CNN trying something new to get people to watch the ads. If I am a studio or network, for me the real question isn’t “how do I get the people to watch the ads”? The real question is “how can I make the show without advertisers (or their money)”? In my opinion, the capacity for advertising dollars to continue funding the development of TV shows is dwindling. More and more people record shows, and fast forward through the ads; or they just download shows via bit torrent. As an advertiser, I would start questioning the sense of paying for TV shows to get made if no-one is going to see my ads. So, as the TV show maker, I would be trying to find ways to make shows that don’t rely on advertising.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Surely there can be life without ads??

Unfortunately, you are turning the broadcast TV industry business model (arguably not working that well) into the Movie industry model – which also no longer really works.

If we do what you are suggesting, what is to stop “pirates” from recording the show and re-broadcasting it on the internet for free? Yup – the old IP laws. They are falling apart and causing all kinds of problems.

An ad-supported model is using the content – which is an unlimited resource because it can be copied – and turning the attention of the viewers it attracts into something that can be sold to advertisers. Sell physical goods by attracting people with virtual goods – that business model works.

The problem is they used to have a captive audience so they could simply stick ads in the middle of the content. They have lost this because of technology and need to come up with another plan. Trying to turn the virtual goods into something they can sell goes against economics (if the supply is infinite, the price will fall to zero).

I think the approach of running content behind the commercials is creative and suggests new thinking. It may not work, but it is admirable that they are trying.

Paul Hobbs (profile) says:

Re: Re: Surely there can be life without ads??

An ad-supported model is using the content – which is an unlimited resource because it can be copied – and turning the attention of the viewers it attracts into something that can be sold to advertisers. Sell physical goods by attracting people with virtual goods – that business model works.

I’m not sure I entirely agree with this. Sure, in the past this is how it worked. And for the most part it still works this way now (or else advertisers would have given up on TV completely). I don’t have the stats to back this up (and I don’t know how you would even measure this), but my gut feel is that TV ads are less effective now than they used to be, and will be even less effective in the future. Once DVRs become as ubiquitous as DVD players, TV viewing habits will start to change. I know when I got my TiVo that my viewing patterns changed dramatically – I rarely watch “live” TV anymore. I record what I want, watch it when it is convenient, and fast fwd through the ads.

In Australia we have a system called FreeView – this is basically all the free-to-air channels along with an EPG. DVR manufacturers are only FreeView compliant if their devices are limited to a maximum fast forward speed of 32x. As long as they comply with this restriction, they can display the FreeView logo, and they have access to the EPG. Personally, I have no issue with 32x – it is fast enough that I can zip through 3 minutes of ads in a few seconds.

I think we are still a few years off yet, but the day is coming (IMHO) when advertisers will decide that TV no longer offers a good ROI. I would say that gimmicks like the one CNN is experimenting with are no more than re-arranging deckchairs.

In principle I agree with you that if a supply is infinite, the price will drop. But I’m not convinced it is always like that. One example might be bottled water. Pretty much everyone (where I live anyway) has access to clean, drinkable water, straight from the tap. And for all intents and purposes, it is an infinite supply. Yet people still buy massive amounts of bottled water, despite the fact that it is more expensive than petrol and offers no advantages over tap water.

I don’t like Apple (the company or their products), but my business partner and I have decided that we should invest in an iPhone so we can demo our products/services as an iPhone app. Basically it comes down to wank value. Anyway, our new iPhone arrived yesterday – very nice looking phone, easy to use, etc – I can completely understand why lots of people buy them. But as part of the process of setting it up (just last night), I discovered something interesting. On iTunes I can buy an entire season of a TV series for $9.99. I never knew this was possible. As much as I can’t stand Apple, this is pretty much what I have been looking for. I don’t know if I can buy TV shows (from iTunes) here in Australia – it seems like many of the products that are available in the US are not available here. But it is nice to know that it is happening.

Maybe my idea above (actually, it isn’t really my idea) won’t work. Maybe people won’t pay for TV shows, even if the price of goods and services drops as a result of lower advertising costs. But if I was CNN (or NBC or FOX or whoever) – I would still be exploring ways of being able to pay for the development of TV shows without relying on advertising dollars.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Surely there can be life without ads??

TV ad revenue is pretty good this year. There was a major dip last year when the US auto manufacturers had their issues, but, for the most part, the dipping economy has gotten a lot of people to stay in and watch TV. Selling their attention is still working (Mike can look at my IP address and tell you I probably know what I am talking about).

How to ensure their attention during the commercials is up in the air, but the business model is still pretty viable.

Your bottled water example is great. However, it illustrates the opposite of your point. People don’t buy bottled water for the water. Bottled water is bought for convenience and (sometimes) social status. The abundant part (yup – the water) is important to adding value to the scarce part (yup – the plastic shell) and the combination generates demand.

For an example, try selling water from a pump on the side of the road. Bottled water is a great example for the media companies, but they tend to think only in terms of the water being sold and completely miss the packaging.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Surely there can be life without ads??

Just to add to the bottled water example.

The fact that you cannot sell water from a pump on the side of the road does not mean water has no value. We cannot live without it, so it has tremendous value. It is ‘free’ because it is very abundant. Bottled water companies combining it with a scarcity (the bottle) reduces the supply of the overall product – and that is why the market bears a price that is not zero.

If you don’t think it is convenience they are selling, visit the supermarket and look at the bottled water. You will find 12-16 ounce bottles and gallons. The gallons have been around for a long time. They are clearly a better deal for the amount of water you get. When is the last time you saw someone carrying around a gallon jug of water?

It was a genius to come up with the idea of selling bottled water.

By the way – that PET plastic they make water bottles out of is difficult (read: expensive) to recycle and they are filling landfills with it. Everyone needs to buy a water bottle and refill it from their tap and put these guys out of business before they destroy our planet.

Robert Haas (profile) says:

Re: Surely there can be life without ads??

NO programming should be allowed to be unterupted from beginning to end….Add it up for DirectTV for insstance. 30 million subs and average 100 per month… why do we have to suffer from all the bs ads anyway. DirectTV will only give you a lot of LIP service as I have tried twice.
Thanks for listening and if you share my thoughts call or email: 269 782-2454 email Tv USED to be good entertainment but with soo many interuptions I forget what it is Im watching……..Best is to list the products and services which annoy you and boycott them altogather!
I share and agree with the many thoughts of Paul Hobbs but where do we start to join a coalition for this cause? I dumped DirectTV for three years and was forced by other family members to get it back……..Much to my suprise the ad content, promos and little popup, banner ads were worse than before. Question is where is the United Support for us to share and with and then petition the networks……TV advertising is soo out of control I now get most all content from internet…..

Anonymous Coward says:

I enjoy many television shows – I watch them on my DVR without ads. I’m glad ads exist – without them, many of my favorite shows wouldn’t exist.

It’s the same as the internet – some subset of users browses the web mostly without ads, while the vast majority does, and without them things on the internet would cost more/not be free.

This is a good thing.

Ellen Marie (profile) says:

Re: Strap you in with eyelid clips...


Desco (profile) says:

How Cable Screwed Up.

Over a dozen years ago, the cable companies already had the technology to be able to stream shows. Like the new Netflicks or podcasting, the shows we “subscribe” would be sent to us automatically and be saved to our set top boxes, and we could watch them at our leisure. Instead, cable (probably because of fears of the media companies) stick to the old “broadcast” model where if you aren’t home when it airs, or if more than one show you want to watch airs at the same time, you’re screwed. This is completely outdated, and as I said the technology to prevent this has been in place for over a decade. (I’ve had cable modem service for what, 15 years?)

Commercials can be shown in the menu while we’re deciding what to watch, or after a show is done, show commercials until we reactivate the menu. As it is, my current DVR goes back into the menu when a show is done, and the menu screen sits there doing nothing while I get up for a snack, or while I’m waiting for the girlfriend to get back from a wee. Hell, when I pause the show to answer the phone or talk to someone, show ads while the content is paused– I might be more inclined to pay attention to commercials because I’m not currently engaged in the content! Instead they stick to interleaving commercials between content and because when I’m watching content all I want is content, I definitely want to skip commercials to get back to the content.

If they really want to stick to this model, maybe make the DVRs just a little bit smarter– instead of blindly skipping 30 seconds, where I might skip into the middle of some ad I don’t care about (or worse, skip into the middle an ad that I might actually watch but because it’s in the middle I don’t know what it’s for) skip to the beginning of the next commercial. That way, commercial makers are guaranteed that the first second of a commercial WILL be seen, so they can put all their eye-catching images/phrases there so I can decide immediately if I want to watch or skip the commercial.

Anonymous Coward says:

They need to just go back to the old way of pure product placement in the program.
I heard the Marketing guy form Coke talk about this NEW product placement advertising plan was the genius of the old days. Pretty hard to fast forward through a commercial when the main character sits back and sips a coke and in the regular dialogue comments how refreshing it is.

RadBag says:

Surely there can be life without ads??

Many,(many) years ago Hockey Night in Canada was sponsored by Esso (Exxon sub in Canada) and then shared with Ford. The ads were highly transparent (you could see all the action thru them) and not annoying and the game went on. I never complained about those ads because they were imaginative and not disruptive to the action. They also didn’t require a stoppage in action. These games took about 2 hours and a bit. They changed to “Official Time Outs” (or Commercial time outs). The game then lasted almost 3 hours and was very disruptive to a fast action game like hockey. The current system of stoppages has changed the strategy of the game (and not for the better, but that’s another discussion). However, (a big however) given the choice of no hockey without ads or the current regime, give me my hockey! (could I be anything other than a Canadian?)

Sammi says:

The Commercials on TV Today

ARE downright insulting to anyone with a half a brain.

Its a fact that -intelligent people are not going to simply buy a product because some moron is telling to..Intelligent people know what they need or want -research the product they are interested in..then buy.

Another point,,,If we were too add up the amount each Cable /satellite ..Television provider earns from the billions of people that subscribe…
There should be NO commercials!!!! We do pay a fortune to watch tv..

Alfred (user link) says:

I want something to turn sound off during adverts

Why does not someone invent some gadget that can detect an advert – or receive and internet signal that tells it that an advert has commenced – so that the sound can be turned off, and back on at the end of each advert.

I have taught my kids to turn on silent mode during adverts and they never ask to buy the crap being advertised. As a result, they consume tiny amounts of sugar and are tall and slim and never hungry.

Anyone who thinks adverts don’t work for them, only for others, is like a person who thinks that everyone can simultaneously have an above-average IQ.

Mark Strunk (profile) says:

Surely there can be life without ads??

I agree about most of your Anti Ads sentiment and TV content, but your dismissal of News / Press as an Opponent to Government is Wrong.
Press is the Only Business mentioned in the Bill of Rights.
Press as opposed to Infotainment is necessary to maintain Freedom of Expression. You say the Free Public Access TV could only cover Government “community service announcements”. This is only one part of the Government Propaganda. The Press covers: General, Community, Arts & Leisure, Business, and Opinion. They are different Sections of the news paper, another fading and failing Media. Free is Good on the internet, but as the Owners are fond of: “Nothing is Free”. We only get Free Infotainment, NOT Free Expression, Liberty, or Pursuit of Happiness.

We only have Freedom to choose Which “Person, Place, Thing” to associate/rent/lease/purchase.

Elliander Eldridge says:

This is why I cut the cable

I never used a DVD and never minded commercials, but when cable TV started putting ads on top of the show I am watching that was when I cut the cable. I refuse to sit through the objects obstructing my view of the show. There is usually a logo in the bottom right corner, a count down to their new show I don’t care about in the top right corner, and an ad that doesn’t just appear on the bottom, but animates to draw my eyes away from the show on the bottom. Television has become like some poorly designed website. That was the last straw for me and the motivation to switch to downloads even before streaming media was a thing and now I stream on Netflix and Youtube primarily. I will NEVER go back to cable TV. As far as I am concerned it’s dead.

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