"They're going to kill us eventually," one top TV network executive said.
February 28, 2001 7:24 AM   Subscribe

"They're going to kill us eventually," one top TV network executive said. TV advertising faces a new challenge. They might actually have to make their ads so that people actually want to watch them. Imagine that!
posted by Steven Den Beste (23 comments total)
(Link courtesy of Geek Press.)

It's not that it can't be done; there's ample demonstration that ads can be made such that they're truly entertaining. Some examples which spring to mind: the Seinfeld AmEx ads, the Michael Fox Pepsi ads (not to mention the "This is not a problem" Pepsi ad). Or look at the Superbowl ads from the last couple of years.

But if customers can skip an ad completely with just a button push, not even seeing it in fast motion, the ad will have to grab someone's attention in the first second or so, to keep them from pushing the button. This is a major challenge, not least because it's such a foreign concept to advertisers. They're used to an environment where they have a captive audience, and where they can be obnoxious. That's not true anymore. Suddenly the advertisers are back in the position of having to be invited in. They'll have to learn to be polite and gracious.

Now, not everyone is ever going to have one of these. But the beauty of this is that it is precisely the more affluent and technologically sophiscated customers who will flock to thiese things, often precisely because of the ad-suppression feature. And those are the viewers that the advertisers most want to reach!

I have no sympathy for the networks or advertisers at all. They've earned this, fair and square. They've gotten used to being able to be intrusive, secure in the knowledge that there wasn't any escape for the majority of their viewers. Backlash wasn't possible -- until technology made it possible. The rules have changed.

posted by Steven Den Beste at 7:33 AM on February 28, 2001

Just run ads that are an hour long, so when people FF through them, they run at normal speed. Problem solved.

Actually, TiVo machines provide a challenge advertisers might miss - when I FF at high speed through the ads and overshoot the start of the show, the play button takes me back to the last ten seconds of the last ad. So perhaps that's where they ought to concentrate their efforts.
posted by lileks at 7:55 AM on February 28, 2001

The other obvious answer to how the networks can get past the FF button is to do to entertainment shows what ESPN and others have done with sporting events -- add a border around the main image every few minutes and stick some ads there. You can't FF past them without missing part of the show, and viewers already have a tolerance for the pop-ups from watching sports.
posted by briank at 8:03 AM on February 28, 2001

Steven, don't think that advertisers and networks will be content to merely watch this happen. What we will probably see will be the television equivalent of banner ads; this has been done for at least 15 years for broadcasts of soccer/football. You will still see the show, but it will either have an advertisment at the bottom of the screen, or worse, an ad framing the entire screen (then again, viewers can always turn to the "black electrical tape" solution to these kinds of ads).

And what about the conspicuous use of products during programs?
posted by Avogadro at 8:03 AM on February 28, 2001

Damn, you beat me to the punch (second point still applies)...
posted by Avogadro at 8:04 AM on February 28, 2001

Yes, ads can be fun, as are budweiser 'waaassuuup' spots, that even I look forward to; but I'm thinking, there just is no way that each commercial can be great, even if they are all at the same 'great' level; not much will stand out?

I can watch an ad once or twice and then repeats are loathesome.

TV commercials have poor sell-through anyway, example being the shower/bathroom spray-cleaners, there are 4-5 brands, big companies competing, but when I go to the store I'll buy whichever's cheaper; I can't even remember the names much else which is best.

Headache medicine - every other one tells you that theirs works best and show you how you much more powerful 2 tablets of aleve are than 20 tablets of Tylenol, and then how much more powerful Tylenol is than aleve and bayer and so on and so on.

And yes, they do deserve this. I suppose. No, defiantly, unless they get rid of those 'enerx is better than Viagra' ads.
posted by tiaka at 8:04 AM on February 28, 2001

lileks, that (the auto-correct feature) was mentioned in the article as potentially the "only commercial time broadcasters will have left that's worth selling." Silly lileks, not reading the article. :-)

I don't quite understand why advertisers and networks are so hung up on the 30-second spot still anyway. I imagine there was a time when piecing the advertisement together, they needed to know to have 6 video tapes cued up to play, but with automation and digitized commercials, you could reasonably easily build blocks of commercials on multiples of 5-seconds say.

The commercial breaks don't need to be exactly 30 seconds, either. A great way to get people to stick around during the commercials would be to have a 1 minute, 30 second commercial break, and a 2 minute 30 second break. Or more, smaller breaks.

Sticking to half-hour blocks is kind of irksome to me, also. Sure, doing otherwise would make channel-hopping tricky, but if networks are really looking for eyeballs, they'll be pushing it more. I'm actually really happy to see NBC exploring odd program lengths in their efforts to retain ownership of Thursday nights.

Man I want a TiVo.

Christ you people post fast.
posted by cCranium at 8:08 AM on February 28, 2001

What about adopting a ppv system? I was to watch Frasier, I pay a dollar. I want to see Three's company I pay 50 cents and so on... heh. nah. dumb idea.
posted by tiaka at 8:11 AM on February 28, 2001

That's called PBS, tiaka. :)
posted by hijinx at 8:21 AM on February 28, 2001

sorry, avogadro.

To tell you the truth, I'm actually surprised that the networks have already done this with ads, since they've been doing it with closing credits for several years now.
posted by briank at 8:24 AM on February 28, 2001

the problem with most pay-per-view or "piecemeal" content provision is that the rates are way too high - the content distributors always seem to view micropayment arrangements as a way to boost profit margins. Case in point: Circuit City's failed DivX - what was it, three bucks a pop to watch a movie you already owned? DivX would probably still be around if the price was more realisitic. Per-track music pricing proposals have been similarly overpriced.

Watching The Lone Gunmen may well be worth a dollar to me. Watching reruns of the Simpsons might be worth a quarter each. Both would be more likely to be worth it if the content was as long as the slot (i.e. no more 21 and 42 minute shows). But if history is any indicator, your Frasier episode will cost $7.95.
posted by Vetinari at 8:31 AM on February 28, 2001

Actually, TiVo machines provide a challenge advertisers might miss - when I FF at high speed through the ads and overshoot the start of the show, the play button takes me back to the last ten seconds of the last ad. So perhaps that's where they ought to concentrate their efforts.

I wonder additionally if there's an effort by ad execs to try to get the message across while being viewed on FF. When you're FFing to get to the beginning of a show, you really have to pay attention to the commercials (more so than if you change the channel). I wonder if they're testing ads at FF, making sure the logos stay on the screen long enough, etc.

posted by MarkAnd at 8:41 AM on February 28, 2001

I can't decide which I feel is more insidious and irritating: big fat blocks of commercials interrupting the shows all the time, or pervasive constant product placement. Being able to skip the commercials is going to force advertisers to search for newer and more annoying ways of generating revenue, and I for one am not looking forward to it.
posted by donkeymon at 8:48 AM on February 28, 2001

I think if the framing ad/banner ad style becomes common, then we'll just see the spatial counterpart to fast-forward: some sort of crop/zoom facility. Especially once it's all digital, why not use all the processing power you've got to customize your picture? Mask out David Hasselhoff, zoom in on Jessica Alba, put a monkey head on Dubya. Why not? (Then the networks will counter with ads inserted into the content, like they do with baseball, or ads that chase you all over the screen, and then…? It's an arms race.)
posted by rodii at 8:57 AM on February 28, 2001

An interesting concept that al brought up - could we be looking back/foward to the old 'sponsored' program, where the commercials become a part of (as opposed to interspersed through) the program itself?

"....Ohio..Ohio..Ohio...Tonight's episode of 'Drew Carrey' is brought to you by..Maytag Neptune, with exclusive 'stainbrain' technology."

"Gee, Drew - you're a mess!"
"I know; Oswald dropped a pizza on me - good thing I have this new 'Maytag Neptune'..."

Stranger things have happened, and it would probably not only defeat TIVO tech but also raise the premium on advertising on most top ten television shows.
posted by Perigee at 11:01 AM on February 28, 2001

RE: Product placement--did anyone see "Castaway?" I enjoyed that movie's refreshing integrity, refusing to advertise name brands within the context of the plot.
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:01 PM on February 28, 2001

As opposed to Surviver 2, who last week sent out a nice big target advertisement.

Actually, speaking of Surviver and advertising, I've noticed this go 'bout in particular, most of the contestants are wearing clearly branded garb. I wonder how many of them said "I sure hope I can land that Nike deal!" as they were packing up.

And, quite honestly, as long as product placement's done well it's rather unobtrusive, and a far better means of advertisement. It took me a long time growing up to figure out why all the cans of cola on TV said "Soda" on them, I just figured every TV family was cheap like my parents and bought the no-name store brand. :-)

I think having someone drinking out of a bottle of Coke without making sure that the label is always facing forward and never covered is much more efffective then having the actors pose with the bottle being akwardly presented to the audience.

It's like how people on TV always sit on one side of the table, leaving a third of it empty for no reason. It's just fake, and lessens from the overall atmosphere.
posted by cCranium at 1:09 PM on February 28, 2001

I use my TiVo to fast-forward through most advertisements, as well, and I've perfected the fine art of hitting the Play button at just the right time so it backs up to the half-second of black between the commercial and the program. I think one thing they're going to do to defeat people like me is to make the commercials look much more like the program's they're running on.
posted by kindall at 1:23 PM on February 28, 2001

RE: Product placement--did anyone see "Castaway?" I enjoyed that movie's refreshing integrity, refusing to advertise name brands within the context of the plot.

You mean like FedEx?

then we'll just see the spatial counterpart to fast-forward: some sort of crop/zoom facility

I have that already, on my computer's TV card. I can crop and zoom, but can't put monkey heads on anyone.

(This post brought to you by ATI video cards)
posted by smeat at 11:44 PM on February 28, 2001

On the plane back home, I was chatting with a British ad worker who'd just spent some time in the New York office, and we were both bemoaning the conservatism of the US industry. Apart from products that you can't really sell on their intrinsic qualities (ie beer), it's the familiar hard sell all the way. (Of course, on my first night back in the UK, I see a couple of commercials with greater thought and production values than the programme they interrupt. Which is a judgement of sorts on ITV.)

So, there's your answer: make commercials that get people to press 'pause' and watch.
posted by holgate at 12:48 AM on March 1, 2001


I love not having a television.

posted by Mars Saxman at 1:07 PM on March 1, 2001


I love not being a righteous ass in a thread I don't give a damn about.
posted by cCranium at 1:45 PM on March 1, 2001

Ouch. But I think you have a point. Sorry about that.
posted by Mars Saxman at 2:09 PM on March 1, 2001

« Older Belgium agrees to legalize pot   |   Trailer Trash get their own website. Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments