Jack Myers' Weekend Think Tank: Thirty-Second Commercials Will Soon Be Obsolete

Each week, Jack Myers offers a controversial opinion to think about over the weekend, inviting your feedback and comments.

The 30-second commercial has begun a slow but inevitable slide into oblivion. Within five years, the :30 will have pretty much disappeared from television except as a vestige of the past in classic commercial programs and Web sites. The reasons are so simple and obvious that five years seems, in reality, too distant a timetable for the demise of today's predominant TV advertising format.

Broadband video advertising generates only $500 million in estimated revenues, with growth projected to reach nearly $3 billion by 2010, according to my company's recent report. Few online advertising experts disagree that the :30 is an ineffective format for Web-based and mobile advertising. "The online consumer," says Dave Yovanno of online network ValueClick, "doesn't have time to sit through a longer format :30. They clicked to see a video, not an ad. We will see a brief ad mention in pre-roll formats that can peak interest and lead to follow-up by consumers. We will have teasers that will invite consumers to watch longer form messages."

Most broadband and streaming video ads today are short-sheeted thirties, which typically fail to perform in any relevant context. As advertisers move increasing shares of budgets to online video, mobile and out-of-home video they will require dedicated creative strategies for short-form 5- to 15-second messages that, once proven effective, will be extended to all video media including traditional television networks. Simultaneously, set-top box data provided by TiVo and others will call attention to the need for shorter commercial pods. The success of Clear Channel Radio in moving that industry away from long-form 60-second commercials is overdue in television, where too many commercials and lengthy interruptions result in lost audiences. Networks themselves will want to increase the amount of programming time and reduce commercialization.

For years, TV networks have thrived on a model dependent on increased clutter, increased costs-per-thousand and offering as little information as possible on return-on-investment effectiveness. If advertisers and agencies accepted this model without debate or criticism, why change it? But the model will simply not work in the future. Advertisers are questioning the lack of research on effectiveness. They are seeking new models. They are refusing to accept 30% falloff in ratings between the first and middle commercials in a lengthy pod. Quiet acceptance of increased clutter and increased costs will no longer be standard-operating procedure in the television industry buyer-seller relationship.

Jahn Ardis, corporate vice president at ValueClick, believes commercial length will shrink "because people are less willing to be interrupted. Consumers are becoming more accustomed to not being interrupted and being able to watch commercials at their discretion." Commercials, he believes, will move toward an invitation format, with short 5-, 10- and 15-second video spots inviting viewers to download longer-form messages for immediate viewing or storage. ValueClick's Yovanno also acknowledges the trend toward more product placement and product "hot spotting" within videos.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, every television show had a single sponsor, with advertisers gathering in May to watch pilots and decide which programs they wanted to sponsor. That process became known as the upfront. One year upstart network ABC was not able to fill its schedule with sponsored programs, leading a creative sales executive named Ollie Treyz to suggest selling single commercials to multiple advertisers. Within two years, the whole TV industry had transitioned to a "scatter" model, as advertisers quickly shifted away from sole sponsorship. In the 1970s, a similar shift occurred when networks began offering :30-second positions at 60% to 70% of the cost of a full :60. Within two-years, the :60 had all but disappeared. We're on the cusp of a similar transformation and you can kiss the :30 goodbye.