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.

Filed Under: advertising, dvrs, tv
Companies: cnn

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  1. icon
    Paul Hobbs (profile), 21 Apr 2010 @ 9:35pm

    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.

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