Mod Pods: Jon Swallen Finds Nets Are Altering Commercial Breaks

The drive toward commercial audience ratings is already beginning to impact the way TV networks format commercial breaks in their shows. That’s the top line of a new commercial pod analysis being released today at the AAAA media conference. The analysis, conducted by TNS research chief Jon Swallen, finds that most of the changes have so far occurred in one-hour shows for the obvious and simple reason: “There’s more flexibility in arranging pods within a 60-minute telecast as compared to a 30-minute broadcast.” More than 95% of one hour shows have give commercial breaks, while the same share of half-hour shows have only three commercial breaks. Swallen found that one-hour shows generally are pushing their first commercial break back in order to start the programs with more programming content in hopes of engaging and holding on to viewers longer. He found that only 20% of one-hour shows now air their first commercial break during the first four-minutes of their telecast, down from 32% a year ago. On the other end of the telecast, more of the one-hour shows are starting and ending their last commercial breaks earlier, a move Swallen thinks also is intended to hold on to viewers longer than if they were expecting a torrent of commercials to pop up at the end of the telecast. “The transition into the last break is often accompanied by an announcer voiceover advising viewers to stay tuned for more of the program – another retention technique,” Swallen notes. Despite this experimentation, Swallen doesn’t expect to see wholesale changes in the way the networks format their commercial breaks anytime soon. “Experimentation with alternative pod layouts will expand cautiously and conservatively,” he says. “The total amount of commercial time per program will remain a limiting factor in terms of what can be done and the proportion of units/pods that might be affected. As ad time creeps upward, it reduces flexibility for effective arrangement of that time within the telecast.” Swallen characterizes the near future more as a period of “tinkering” than radical changes in commercial formats.
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