Smartphones Make People Ignore Commercials Way More Than DVRs

from the captive-audience dept

For years, the TV industry has been at war with the DVR, because of their fear that people would just use DVRs to skip over commercials. And, of course, there were the requisite reports about how DVRs were causing massive totally made up "losses." Except, the reality turned out to be completely different. Various studies found that DVRs changed watching habits in that they actually drove more TV watching, and actually increased retention of what was in the commercials viewers did see. Of course, the "fear" from TV folks was totally misplaced -- and they were going after the symptom, not the actual heart of the issue: which is that people don't want to watch TV commercials because the TV commercials suck.

TV commercials worked because people were a captive audience and had nowhere else to place their attention. Yet, when they have other options for their attention, they tend to take them. In fact, the latest study (sent over by Eric Goldman) shows that DVRs were never really a huge threat in terms of taking people's attention away from ads. Instead, it seems the real threat is that everyone has a smartphone now, and when commercials come on, they turn their attention to their smartphone, check their social network/email/etc.:
It was found that simply turning one's head to ignore video ads had far greater impact than DVR fast-forwarding is assumed to have. Magna Global estimates that 35% of U.S. households have DVRs and 10% of their total TV consumption is time shifted, within which 65% of ads are fast-forwarded, meaning 35% x 10% x 65% = 2% of total TV ad impressions are avoided through fast-forwarding. Our study found that 63% of TV impressions were avoided simply by not paying attention to the screen.
To be honest, that 2% number seems crazy low to me, and I wonder how accurate it really is. However, even if it's noticeably higher, it appears that smartphones and other distractions are definitely taking people's attention away. In fact, even when people do fast-forward ads (as we noted in that study years ago) they still seem to see the ads:
When participants did use the DVR to fast-forward TV ads, nearly half of them paid full attention to the screen during that process. Fast-forwarded ads had 12% more attention levels than non-fast-forwarded ads.
Though, this study contradicts the other one from a few years ago concerning retention: saying people don't retain quite as much from fast-forwarded ads.

Of course, you can debate the statistics all you want, the basics are pretty obvious: if your method of advertising relies on a captive audience, and that audience is no longer captive, then you're going to have problems. TV execs were wrong to worry about DVRs, because they didn't really take people's attention away from the TV, and had the other side effect of making people watch more TV. However, there may actually be an issue with things like smartphones, because if people don't like what's on the TV (i.e., the ads suck) they now have a much more entertaining option right in their pocket. The captive audience is dead. Of course, that doesn't mean that there's nothing the TV guys can do. They could start making the ads more compelling such that people actually want to watch them, but I guess that probably sounds like "work."


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    Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2011 @ 1:34am

    There is a couple of things that 'might work'. I know what's on now isn't working at all. I quit watching tv maybe 8 or 10 years ago. The prime reasons I did that was that I didn't feel I was getting my money's worth with reruns running constantly on PPV, I hate commercials with a passion, and nothing that was on much appealed to me.

    Maybe 2 or 3 programs a month were of real interest. I have no interest whatever in soaps, humor that isn't humor, reality shows, rerun after rerun, sports, nor informercials. Commercials got to where they were so predominate, that it seemed the show was the excuse to send commercial after commercial. Volumes on them were horrendous because they had compressed them so far in order to turn the level up. They don't really turn the volume up, they flat line the peaks and valleys through compression and then boost the gain level.

    When I sat down and looked at what I was paying for junk I wasn't interested in and then realized the biggest thing I was using tv for was background noise, then it no longer made sense to watch tv nor to pay for it.

    I don't own a tv. I have no interest in getting one. I find I have a whole lot more time to do what does interest me.

     

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      Old Fool (profile), May 27th, 2011 @ 5:11am

      Re:

      I too gave up my TV years ago, sick of being treated like a moron.
      Also I calculated circa 20% of the viewing was watching ads in which I had no interest at all.
      My time is much better spent (reading TechDirt :P), and my mind is my own, I don't get propaganda.
      As 'The Onion' puts it "Telling you what we want you to know"

      I do watch 'Have I got News For You' on the BBC iPlayer, I'm afraid it has lots of English 'in' jokes, so my American brethren may not get them all, but best program ever imo.

       

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    Michael Long (profile), May 27th, 2011 @ 1:43am

    If they want to increase retention, stop running 6 to 8 commercials back-to-back. If they want to increase viewership, do more "limited commercial interuptions", with no more that 2-3 ads.

    Why the hell is a hour show barely 40 minutes long? Why is a full third of an hour devoted to selling crap?

    ION television is running a set of commercials for their network that feature the word "more". More drama. More fun.

    When in actuality all I see are more commercials. Much more...

     

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      Michael Long (profile), May 27th, 2011 @ 1:45am

      Re:

      One "more" thing. People bitch about the $1.99 price that Apple charges for TV episodes.

      But I'll gladly pay the two bucks just to skip the ads, and get twenty minutes of my life back.

       

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        Alex, May 27th, 2011 @ 3:19pm

        Re: Re:

        Dang, you're right. When I think about what my time is worth, two bucks to get twenty minutes back sounds like a pretty good deal.

         

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    Tom (profile), May 27th, 2011 @ 1:59am

    Ads Suck

    The ads do suck. I rip on them a lot when watching. They come on with something completely unrelated to the product, then at the end of that they say something like, "Brand X. The best in product Y". What the heck did I just watch and why would that make me want Brand X's product? Then there are the ads that actually talk about whatever product they're trying to sell you. They tell you it's a $200 value, but you can have it for $19.95! If they're selling it for $19.95 then it's worth about $10, not $200. Stop treating us like we're imbeciles! Run an ad that shows what your product can do and how much it costs. Throw all the CGI, dishonest value claims and unrelated bullshit in the garbage.

     

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      abc gum, May 27th, 2011 @ 4:34am

      Re: Ads Suck

      What he said.

      Also, wasn't there a lot of whining about the mute button killing kittens ... or something like that.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2011 @ 2:27am

    They could start making the ads more compelling such that people actually want to watch them, but I guess that probably sounds like "work."


    No they just move the ads into the actual TV show

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KPuz8LpsGMw

     

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    Travis Miller (profile), May 27th, 2011 @ 2:27am

    "Crazy low"?

    I don't think I'd call 2% "crazy low" for several reasons. Think about it. Primarily, you would have to doubt the numbers on DVR ownership and time-shifting. Even if we raise the fast-forward rate to (an unreasonable) 100%, we would still only be at 3.5%. Now consider that everyone has been conditioned to be used to commercials for decades, and that they have turned their attention away as much as possible for quite a while. (Getting a snack, moving clothes from the washer to dryer, whatever.) Now factor in those people who would rather check their smart phones than fast-forward through commercial breaks. Or, if watching something with friends, talk to them about the show or just about life in general in that "free time". Many people still check other channels on commercial breaks. The one glaring flaw in that stat is that it assumes a DVR owner who time-shifts isn't watching any more TV than the rest, which I will just assume is wrong. But even factoring that in, I still don't think 2% is "crazy low".

     

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    Travis Miller (profile), May 27th, 2011 @ 2:39am

    "Crazy low"?

    I don't think I'd call 2% "crazy low" for several reasons. Think about it. Primarily, you would have to doubt the numbers on DVR ownership and time-shifting. Even if we raise the fast-forward rate to (an unreasonable) 100%, we would still only be at 3.5%. Now consider that everyone has been conditioned to be used to commercials for decades, and that they have turned their attention away as much as possible for quite a while. (Getting a snack, moving clothes from the washer to dryer, whatever.) Now factor in those people who would rather check their smart phones than fast-forward through commercial breaks. Or, if watching something with friends, talk to them about the show or just about life in general in that "free time". Many people still check other channels on commercial breaks. The one glaring flaw in that stat is that it assumes a DVR owner who time-shifts isn't watching any more TV than the rest, which I will just assume is wrong. But even factoring that in, I still don't think 2% is "crazy low".

     

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      Travis Miller (profile), May 27th, 2011 @ 3:04am

      Re: "Crazy low"?

      My bad for the duplicate post, accidentally clicked "back" to the "comment submitted" page. :)

       

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      maclizard (profile), May 27th, 2011 @ 6:01am

      Re: "Crazy low"?

      2% sounds right to me.

      If 10% of all television viewing time is shifted and of that 10% only 65% of the ads are skipped, that means that 6.5% of all ads viewed by DVR owners get skipped. Once you allow for a 3%-%5 margin for error you probably end up in the ballpark.

      We should also consider that there are likely more outliers that don't fast-forward out of habit than those doing the opposite.

       

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        JEDIDIAH, May 30th, 2011 @ 7:22pm

        Re: Re: "Crazy low"?

        What is this "fast forward" they are talking about anyways?

        When I still used a Tivo and had not yet replaced it with an HTPC, I skipped commercials in 30 second increments. This did not require much attention at all actually.

        Digital is not tape. You don't have to navigate it as such. This was one of the great innovations of the Tivo (which was really a side effect of random access media).

         

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      nasch (profile), May 28th, 2011 @ 11:47am

      Re: "Crazy low"?

      I have no idea about the numbers, but why would only 10% of programs be time shifted, and only 65% of commercials be skipped? Those are the only two reasons I can think of to have a DVR. Personally I time shift very nearly 100% of my watching, specifically so I can skip almost 100% of the commercials. Because they're so bad. Getting a DVR to time shift 1 show out of 10 and skip 6.5% of commercials (still playing 93.5% of the commercials!) doesn't add up for me.

       

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    NotMyRealName (profile), May 27th, 2011 @ 3:26am

    I think the worst part about commercials is how each channel only really runs maybe 3-4 ads, over and over, all day. When I had tv, I only ever watched maybe 6 channels (sci-fi, history, military, discovery, comedy central, bbc) and I could tell which was on by the commercials. assuming they run 3 commercials per break, times 3 breaks per show (been a while im guesstimating) means I see the same ad at least twice per show. variety would hold my attention far more than blasting the same crap over and over. now I dont watch -any- commercials, as I get my tv a season at a time with all the bs cut out. (thank you mr. Edward Teach.)

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2011 @ 3:34am

    When participants did use the DVR to fast-forward TV ads, nearly half of them paid full attention to the screen during that process. Fast-forwarded ads had 12% more attention levels than non-fast-forwarded ads.


    BLIPVERTS!!!

     

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      Fushta, May 27th, 2011 @ 6:47am

      Re:

      Not for me. My remote has a 30 second skip button. 4-6 clicks, and I'm done. No need to pay attention.

       

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        pixelpusher220 (profile), May 27th, 2011 @ 7:33am

        Re: Re:

        Exactly. When FF'ing you need to pay attention because you need to actively know when to stop it.

        This is why NFL broadcast ads now sometimes have just a static logo over most of the screen. When FF'ing it looks like a regular ad. One way the advertisers 'adapted' (the horror!) to the new reality.

        On that note, the one commercial I will *never* forgot was the sponsor of "Schindler's List" when it was on TV the first time. No commercials at all, just a 3-4 minute 'intermission' in the middle with a static logo for the company - Ford. No audio, no text, nothing, just that static image. Classy, understated and completely appropriate for the situation.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2011 @ 8:30pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          I'm very partial to ads like that. I'm getting old, but I recall a commercial in the 70s, forget what for: "If you want to get someone's attention...whisper."

          I like the current Sherwin-Williams ads, everything made of paint chips, simple piano music. Clever and quiet.

           

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          Fushta (profile), May 28th, 2011 @ 5:38pm

          Re: Indy Racing Ads

          If anyone here watched Indy racing over the past few seasons, you'll know about "side-by-side." Since the race never stops, even during a yellow flag situation, they go to commercial and use a split screen. They certainly do go to commercial while the race is still going (when there is an extended green flag period), and they show the continuing race along side the commercials. I actually watch the ads. Why doesn't anyone else do that? Other sports don't have specific time out periods...golf, other forms of auto racing, long-distance running...

           

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            Anonymous Coward, May 29th, 2011 @ 5:49am

            Re: Re: Indy Racing Ads

            Hey, I invented that! I wrote to ABC in the '80s and told them they should do it.

            Where's my money?

             

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    Vincent Clement (profile), May 27th, 2011 @ 3:38am

    Or do what Subways does: feature your product in TV shows. Hey, is that Big Mike enjoying a Subway sandwich on Chuck? Hey, is that a Subway restaurant in the background on Cougar Town?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2011 @ 3:41am

    The problem with this then is that while people's heads may be turned away, their ears are still picking up the audio. Most people won't mute because then if they're looking at something else they may miss the resumption of their show.

    This will then lead to louder and more annoying ads. Just ask anyone from the UK about a certain insurance comparison website ad featuring an offensively loud and annoying opera tenor. It will only get worse...

     

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      Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2011 @ 6:43am

      Re:

      "The problem with this then is that while people's heads may be turned away, their ears are still picking up the audio."

      Many people turn the volume down during commercials.

       

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    robert, May 27th, 2011 @ 5:30am

    Ads

    I find, even when fast forwarding ads on my DVR, I will go back and watch an advertisement that catches my eye because the ad looked interesting (the way it was presented) or because of what the ad is attempting to sell interests me itself. Of course, that means that if their advertising scheme falls into the "Meh." category, they are far less likely to get my attention or my dollars.

     

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    Wayne, May 27th, 2011 @ 6:00am

    The Real Problem

    They are missing the most obvious enemy of the industry: the Remote Control. This evil device allows one to change the channel when a commercial comes on. In my house this has resulted in me not only missing commercials, but I haven't watched a complete program is years...

     

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      Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2011 @ 7:16am

      Re: The Real Problem

      Quite right. There is also the pernicious toilet. And the awful practice of making a cup of tea. Heaven forbid one should cuddle one's Significant Other or perhaps one's children. There are also those dreadful cats and dogs demanding attention. There is also the ultimate horror invention, the OFF button. Can you imagine it, there are actually people who stop watching TV altogether and go and read a book.

      All these vicious practices are clearly costing the TV industry eleventy squillion dollars (or more) per minute and should be outlawed at once! I shall call my congress critter and give him/her/it a real blast!

       

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    Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2011 @ 6:42am

    "And, of course, there were the requisite reports about how DVRs were causing massive totally made up "losses.""

    Get this through your head, I do not want to be advertised to. Why is that such a problem? It certainly doesn't require government intervention. It's not the governments job to protect private profits.

    If anything, the government should be more worried about removing the (FCC and cableco) monopolies that it creates, or at least regulating them, to reduce commercials. Cable used to be commercial free, now it costs a fortune and is riddles with commercials. Enough is enough already.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2011 @ 7:12am

    I'm surprised there's not outrage over going to the bathroom during commercials which was the only escape when I was growing up.

    I noticed a while back that KFC really hit the ball out of the park with their product placement on NBC. They picked a Thursday? night and hammered it into every show in the lineup and it actually kind of worked. The problem I see is down the line when there isn't one frame left to cram another product into and the writers are being forced into doing "Parks and Rec" episodes about Swiffer Wet Jets. Here's a link to the KFC campaign and whether you like any of the programs or not, you have to admit it was done pretty well. Obvious without being obtrusive:
    http://nymag.com/daily/entertainment/2010/10/how_bad_did_last_nightscommuni.html

    One other thing I think they can take advantage of is the fact that people who have DVRs aren't necessarily using them all the time. I for instance cannot stand to be behind more than 5 seconds in a sporting event because it bothers me that a tense event has already been played out and I could easily catch up to it avoiding a lot of walking around on the mound and ass patting. I suppose the same is true of almost anything on television though. Forget about commercials, i was watching the season finale of "The Biggest Loser" with my wife. Personally I hate the show but it was a lazy Sunday and we had nothing else to do. I couldn't believe it was a two hour program. There were about 40 minutes of commercials, 10 minutes of the trainers selling their products in the actually sho, and i would guess about 40 more minutes of "flashbacks" to earlier episodes, the weigh in process was another couple minutes of artificial suspense, not to mention 10 minutes of unintelligible crying; I think we watched the 2 hour show in 20 minutes.

    TL;DR Stop make crappy commercials in boring television shows.

     

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    FormerAC (profile), May 27th, 2011 @ 7:14am

    Ignoring reality

    If I was designing a TV commercial today, I would design around fast forwarding. My DVR (DirecTV) has a 30 second fast forward skip. But it actually shows the video as it fast forwards. Why wouldn't you design a commercial around this type of setup. Have a persistent logo throughout the whole commercial. This way, even if I fast forward, I still see your logo.

     

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    Krusty, May 27th, 2011 @ 7:31am

    What works...

    Point of fact we like commercials GOOD ones that is itís the bad ones that ruin it for everybody.
    Proof you sayÖ ok some people tune into the Super bowl just to watch the overhyped commercials.
    Anybody ever heard of the CLEO awards?
    You want to get people watching your commercials again? Stop making them suckÖ thatís what will work.
    Just my .02

     

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    Overcast (profile), May 27th, 2011 @ 7:42am

    Oh well, Pandora's box is open. Too damn bad.

    Take my ability to fast forward away on the DVR and guess what? I won't watch the show.

    I rarely watch TV as it is now. Don't make it more of a pain in the ass to watch...

    Days of hours and hours of stupid shows that are supported by inane commercials are over for me. DVR restrictions or not.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2011 @ 8:37am

      Re:

      Tried watching a Family Guy episode On Demand recently and the ability to FF *commercials* was disabled - and the commercials ran for like 5 whole minutes! Commercials in a show that's already run, can FF all you like through the actual show but not the ad breaks, of which there were *several* within a half hour show, on a service I've already paid for.

      FU Fox and all your like-minded ilk.

       

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    Overcast (profile), May 27th, 2011 @ 7:44am

    When participants did use the DVR to fast-forward TV ads, nearly half of them paid full attention to the screen during that process. Fast-forwarded ads had 12% more attention levels than non-fast-forwarded ads.

    Oh and that's 100% true....

    I do slow down and even rewind some if they are of interest. Tampon commercials will never be of interest to me. Nor will pharma crap. I take pills that my doctor thinks I need, not crap I see on TV. I AVOID pharma I see on TV.

     

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    Brian, May 27th, 2011 @ 8:22am

    That's exactly what I do

    For me a commercial break is the time to check my phone for scores, emails, etc. A fine myself fast forwarding through the commercials less and less.

    Regarding the audio, I don't turn the volume down for commercials but I really have no idea which ones are playing.

     

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      Gwiz (profile), May 27th, 2011 @ 8:43am

      Re: That's exactly what I do

      For me a commercial break is the time to check my phone for scores, emails, etc. A fine myself fast forwarding through the commercials less and less.

      Regarding the audio, I don't turn the volume down for commercials but I really have no idea which ones are playing.


      As I tend to do also, usually on the laptop with the TV as background noise.

      One thing that to keep in mind though, is when the sound is on but your attention is somewhere else, that sound is still reaching your subconscience subliminally and unfiltered.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2011 @ 8:37pm

        Re: Re: That's exactly what I do

        I'd agree with that to a point, but I can get absorbed in my phone to a frightening degree sometimes. It's weird, I can multitask fairly well except with that phone. I think it's because the screen's so small, needs extra physical and mental focus or something.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2011 @ 8:33am

    Faulty math and faulty premise:

    People with a DVR may also have a smart phone. They may also turn their heads away or go to the washroom during commercials. DVRs fast forwarding of commercials is supplemental to these actions, not exclusionary.

     

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    Brandon (profile), May 27th, 2011 @ 9:06am

    My homebrew DVR setup has commercial detection now so I don't even need to skip. It's pretty neat but at the same the time it's rather pathetic that I felt the need to install it in the first place or worse, spend all this money setting it up.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2011 @ 11:37am

    Our study found that 63% of TV impressions were avoided simply by not paying attention to the screen.

    A very believable number, but I think that only fractionally has anything to do with smartphones. The idea that "everybody has a smartphone now" is very far from true. The percentage is probably around 20% (statistics vary substantially). I would suggest more commercials are skipped by bathroom breaks, snacking, and reading magazines or books.

    There's a tendency among technophiles to think that everybody has followed them to their new tech, and that isn't always true. Heck, a quarter of adults don't even have a cellphone.

     

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    trish, May 27th, 2011 @ 11:50am

    i like old spice ads

    those ads are amazing! i rewatched the first one on youtube like 5 times when it came out last year! why cant more ads be that good and humorous?
    i'm on a horse

     

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    Jesse Jenkins, May 27th, 2011 @ 11:54am

    Smart phones, DVR, whatever

    It's kind of amusing, that they leave out the main video control resource that's been around much longer than any of this . . . the MUTE button. My mute button's nearly worn
    out from all the use.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2011 @ 2:24pm

    I used the mute button when I used to watch live TV. Worked out great, and no expensive monthly contract!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2011 @ 2:43pm

    I decided some time ago that if I was going to be advertised to, I wasn't going to pay for it too. The catch is that by getting my shows for free, someone already took the time to remove the commercials. So now, I don't pay for the shows OR get advertising. Win-win!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2011 @ 4:40pm

    I fast-forward ads...

     

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    TooLazyToSign, May 27th, 2011 @ 5:33pm

    Impromptu Theatre

    I remember many amusing and insightful nights watching TV with friends where we played the soundtracks to old war films, Rocky Horror and broadway musicals to whatever was on the Tube. Kinda like the Wizard of Oz and the Dark Side of the Moon thing. Commercials were most funny.

    Unfortunately those days of hilarity are long gone, as I killed my tv over 15 years ago.

     

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    Gene Cavanaugh (profile), May 28th, 2011 @ 12:49pm

    Taking attention away from ads

    The mute button works better. I will admit, a smart ad gets my attention, and I don't hit the mute button (or go get a drink of water, or ....).

     

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    E.Nuf, Jun 6th, 2011 @ 12:32pm

    Commercials on Comcast

    I use Comcast and have for a number of years. I have the full package. If you are watching any of the stations in the Basic or extended Basic package; You cannot escape commercials. Prior to cable,you could switch the channel and not land on another commercial. With Comcast that option is long gone.
    I pay around $180.00 per month and they force me to watch this trash. Like most of you I am sick of it. I can't even watch a news clip without first watching some stupid commercial.
    I am 70 years old and don't have very much hair to pull out any longer; so I refuse to purchase any product that ruins the program I am watching.
    Showtime and HBO keep showing the same shit over and over and seldom have anything worth watching. If they did not have boxing I would get rid of them.
    Forcing people to watch these commercials should be considered extreme punishment and I say: DatsEnuf.

     

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