Is reducing commercial loads part of the answer to making TV advertising more effective? NBC and FOX seem to think so.
NBC has announced it plans to reduce prime-time commercial pods in original programming by 20% this fall. The reduction in ad time and pod lengths will apply to all prime-time original series across NBCU, which includes NBC, USA, Bravo, E!, Telemundo, CNBC, and Oxygen. The network will also be introducing something called Prime Pod., in which either at the first or last break of each prime-time episode will be a 60-second commercial pod. NBC will use artificial intelligence to match these ads through context targeting with program content (Turner has successfully used context-based advertising). This will be separate (i.e., more expensive) from the traditional ad buy.
FOX is planning to implement something it calls JAZ commercial pods (just “A” and “Z” pod positions), on Sunday nights, which will contain just two 30-second spots apiece. As is the case with NBC, FOX considers these separate products from its traditional ad buys, and they will cost more for advertisers. The network does not plan to make its shows longer to compensate for the reduced ad load. Instead it will create Fox Blocks, to contain branded content from advertisers. The network may also consider adding JAZ pods to Thursday night after football ends.
FOX has experimented with shorter commercial lengths before. Ten years ago, the network tried using 60- and 90-second commercial pods in its new series, “Fringe.” I was head of research at Magna Global at the time, and we were the first to partner with FOX on this ad format on behalf of our clients. The shorter national commercial pods were preceded by an announcement that the show would return in 60 or 90 seconds. We did extensive research to determine the effectiveness of these commercials.
The average adult 18-49 rating fall-off from the program segment to the commercial pod for “Fringe” was less than half that of the typical FOX drama — a major improvement in commercial audience retention.
We selected a random sample of 20,000 TiVo users from its opt-in panel, and 60% of respondents recognized that “Fringe” had shorter commercial breaks than other programs, while 34% of respondents saw the show’s advertisers more favorably (62% were neutral). Also, 56% of “Fringe’s” commercials were played back (compared to less than 40% for the average prime-time series at the time), and ad recall was nearly twice as high as any other drama airing that night on any network.
Despite paying a healthy premium, we were quite pleased with the results, but the program only lasted one season, as FOX thought it was too expensive to continue. It makes me wonder how the network can do this for several series, and what kind of premium it will be charging.
As far as paying a premium for less clutter, I would just say this. Advertisers have continually paid more almost every year despite declining ratings. If ratings decline by 20% next season, but advertisers get a 20% boost in viewer retention to commercials, it seems like a wash to me.