Obviously partly driven by the rise of the DVR and its attendant threat of ad skipping as well as the longer-standing forms of ad avoidance such as channel-hopping, media multitasking and leaving the room, the impetus to stem the flow of attention from the screen is also impelled by the looming prospect of commercial minute ratings -- even if the debate over their definition and use continues, as it no doubt will.
The article makes fascinating reading, as it does a great job of conveying just how much activity of this type is going on. There seems to be scarcely a network or major cable player that is not doing something to retain viewers in the break. Some are putting a great deal of effort into it, producing original content, rolling out cross-platform activity, and so on. If nothing else, this trend stands as a testament to the creative thinking coming out of the sales and marketing departments of all these media owners, representing as it does a kind of "advertainment" with a narrative of its own.
However, while the creativity behind the concepts is clear, I haven't yet seen any evidence of their effectiveness. I'd love to see something that indicates which approaches are more or less effective and why. It is obviously too early to reach any solid conclusions, but the sooner we can gain some real insight, the sooner we'll know whether or not these initiatives are looked on as an enhancement of the viewing experience -- or just more clutter that interrupts the programming.
After all, it's not as if viewers won't understand what's going on -- that all this creativity is intended to keep them glued to (and "engaged" with) their screens. Will that matter? Who knows?
From the trivia quizzes through the comedy skits, the murder mysteries and the mini-dramas, to the clustering of funny commercials, some of this stuff is going to work better than the rest. Some will also represent a revenue opportunity in itself through sponsorship or cross-platform tie-ins. We need to understand the boundaries around these deals as well, so that the very attempt to overcome advertising ambivalence isn't undermined by the need to generate revenue. After all, it would be a shame if someone hit upon the secret of retaining an additional 20% of viewers in the break -- only to then go ahead and slap a load of ads all over it.
It's the kind of research I'd love to do, as it would help to inform TV design from an experiential perspective. But in the meantime, if anyone out there can point the rest of us at any research that begins to shed light on what is more or less likely to work, then please do so. And while you're at it, tell us which approach you think has the greatest potential -- assuming you think any of this will actually make a difference.