How skipping ads increases shameless plugs

More viewers are finding ways to avoid commercials, but some of their moves are hurting ratings and scaring advertisers.

By Jason Notte Nov 13, 2012 6:35PM

A senior man watching TV -- Image Source, Getty ImagesHope you like streaming television episodes you missed and using your DVR to skip commercials, because you're killing free TV as we know it.

Yes, you, who can't be bothered to sit through 30 seconds of an advertiser's spiel just to get to your free showing of "Modern Family," "American Idol" or whatever else people like you are watching these days.

Oh yeah, we're talking to you, Mr. or Ms. "I won't pay Hulu Plus 8% a month to make me watch 10-second commercials." Remember your hardline stance against "The Man" the next time your favorite character blatantly plugs an automaker's small SUV in a road-trip episode while a member of the supporting cast clambers into the back and proclaims "I can't believe there's a third row back here!" in a perfectly natural and not-at-all-forced bit of dialogue.

Almost all the broadcast networks are struggling this year and blaming a commercial-skipping public for their woes. Little more than two months into the fall season, Disney's (DIS) ABC, CBS (CBS) and News Corp's (NWS) Fox have watched their collective ratings plummet roughly 10% among viewers 18 to 49. Though CBS has been the only network during that time to outright cancel a show -- cutting the legal drama "Made In Jersey" -- Fox's ratings alone have fallen nearly 30% in that span. Fox didn't have a show crack Nielsen's (NLSN) prime-time Top 20 last week and hasn't had one that popular all season. The one positive note comes from former cellar-dweller NBC, which is now No. 1 among viewers 18-49 after a 23% ratings jump among that demographic from last season.

Some of the blame rests with the programming itself. Disney chief executive Bob Iger told the Financial Times that the content ABC is dishing out is a big part of the reason its popularity has fallen nearly 7% among the 18-to-49 demographic.

"There seems to be somewhat of an absence of what I'll call new, big, real, buzz-worthy hits," Iger says, alluding to costly, ratings-averse dramas like "Last Resort" and "666 Park Avenue." Fox's woes, meanwhile, also seem tied to expensive duds like "The Mindy Project," "Ben & Kate" and "The Mob Doctor."

Other execs and advertisers, however, point the finger of blame directly into the commercial-hating mug of DVR users and streamers.

"People are watching more programming than ever but they are increasingly time-shifting," said Les Moonves, chief executive of CBS, in a conference call last week.

While CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox argue that all that watching means people want more of their content than ever, it's going to be a hard sell to advertisers who pump $70 billion into the television industry and have to be swayed to do so each spring. Even the networks don't seem to believe those sponsors will pay more for additional exposure they're already paying for.

Fox, CBS and Comcast's (CMCSA) NBC Universal have already sued Dish Network (DISH) this year to halt use of the company's Hopper set-top box, which records all the major networks' prime-time shows, stores them for eight days after their initial broadcast and allows customers to skip all commercials without fast-forwarding through them by pressing the AutoHop button. The networks claim the AutoHopper service will destroy the "advertising-supported ecosystem" that provides free, over-the-air prime-time TV and that copies of the shows that Dish's hopper creates constitute copyright infringement. A U.S. district court judge denied Fox's bid to block the service, but ruled that the box's recording violated Fox copyright.

Meanwhile, TVGuide survey results last month found that nearly three quarters of viewers who subscribe to streaming services like Netflix (NFLX), Hulu Plus and Amazon (AMZN) Prime do so to catch up on TV episodes. When they do so on Netflix and Amazon, though, those episodes come through commercial free.

Advertisers already know this and are trying to sneak more ads into the episode content itself. Fox's "The New Girl" already rankled viewers with its in-episode pitch (see it on YouTube) for the Ford (F) Fusion while ABC's "Revenge" basically let Target (TGT) and Neiman Marcus build an alternate show reality within their ad campaigns on Sunday. Meanwhile, NBC's "30 Rock" has been taking a ham-fisted approach to placement of Apple (AAPL) products and other branded bill payers for years.

The pitched battle over shameless shilling came to a head this week when Anthony Bourdain, host of the Travel Channel's "No Reservations," lashed out at a campaign for General Motors' Cadillac brand that aired during his show and, he says, used his likeness without permission. Bourdain is leaving the show this month for a gig at CNN, but says the doctored Cadillac clips were just another example of networks -- or, in this case, Travel Channel parent company Scripps Networks (SNI) -- trying to fuse shows with commercial content that savvy viewers would otherwise skip right past.

"There's pressure from networks to 'integrate' products into the body of the actual shows whenever possible: to slip images of brands right into the action, or to transitions into commercials in such a way as to make the viewer think that it's still the show they're watching," Bourdain said in a blog post

Of course it isn't, but networks and their advertisers aren't really concerned about your feelings once you've been tricked. There are billions on the line and since you don't have the patience for jingles and poor acting anymore, companies and networks are going to try to get you to buy brands in the sneakiest ways possible. If that means stilted dialogue, awkward product placement and gratuitous displays of logos, vehicle grills, laptops, smartphones and just about any other everyday billboard a character can hold, so be it. Unless you're up for paying those commercials away, "free" comes at a cost.

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Jan 10, 2013 4:02PM
Having so many commercials on tv made me finally drop the cable completely I do not have tv viewing from cable anymore and don't plan to have it turned back on either..If i want to watch anything, i just go to websites on my pc. My cable bill was $114 / month, and now it is just $50/month for just the internet.TV programming is terrible anyways.
Nov 14, 2012 4:28PM
Free TV is usually Network TV. Which is crap! And if you think about it NOTHING is free.
You will note also most networks have another branch of productions for streaming or PPV.
Not to mention most networks own other cable channels .
But here is the bottom line: I have NEVER purchased anything advertised by television productions.
Get used to it my friend. The future will belong only to those products allow commercial skipping
And believe me the advertisers have plans on the board now to get around it.
You cannot even open a piece of mail without an advertisement in it.
Nov 14, 2012 3:21PM

Perhaps we the viewing public are tired of the INCREASING number and minutes of ads.  Take any 1970's show.  There were about 47-50 minutes of program per hour.  That leaves 10 - 13 minutes for ads.  Fast forward to today.. We are down to just 40 minutes of program, and that makes 20 minutes of advertisements.


Perhaps we are tired of ALL the advertisements and 20 minutes per hour are too much.  If you delivered more (we won't get into QUALITY) program and less advertisement, perhaps we would watch more advertisements. 


Then we can get into all the sex that is built into toady's ads.  Not appropriate for children, so once again we skip them.


Then we have to put up with the ad junk jumping around the bottom of our screens.  Sometimes blocking parts of the program that would be nice to see to know what is going on.

Nov 14, 2012 10:39AM
Free TV? No its not. Advertisers add the cost in with the products they sell. All Corporations are just gonna have to suck it up and take the hit. If they want to get their viewership back, stop with the 20 minutes of banalities and annoying popups on the stations. Change or die. After 60 years of doping their audiences with this stuff they should have seen it coming.
Nov 14, 2012 9:59AM

The major networks still broadcast "free TV".  I dont have cable or satelite, just an antennea and I get about 20 channels.  I love not paying $100 a month for cable.  Outside of not having ESPN, Discovery and History Channels, the line up is just as good.  I bought a $50 antennea at Wal-Mart and the reception is in High-Def, very clear.  But, I know the days of free boadcast are numbered.  I will enjoy it while it lasts. Saves my family $700-$1000 a year.

I think most of you who are getting angry saying that your cable or sattelite TV really isn't free forget that we still do have over-the-air (ahem, yes, free) TV broadcasts in almost every city and town.  Sure, it may not have all of your favorite networks, but it is free. 
Nov 14, 2012 9:26AM
RTML,  Yeah, I remember when cable first came into being.  Commercial free because you are paying for it.  Hell, that didn't last long.
Nov 14, 2012 2:41AM
I wouldn't mind watching 30 second ads if there were only a couple or three, but I have counted as much as 8 in-between  some of my favorite programs. More than 4 minutes!

When cable first came out in the late 70's I paid for it because they had NO ads.  Now I pay out-the-nose for it and have to endure 15 minutes of ads per hour show!!!  Of course I'm going to use my DVR to skip that much time.  But they still show their own programming ads during the show in flashes in the corners. I'm watching a show, and I don't want flashes of ads distracting me during it.

So not only are we giving cable and dish tv providers lots of money to watch tv, but they also get all that money from the advertisers.

Just my opinion.

Nov 14, 2012 1:30AM

I'm with duck500 on this one. One or two 30 second commercials I can deal with. When they string them together into five or six minute chunks of ads, sometimes even longer, forget it.


I don't know the exact number, but it used to be a 30 minute show lasted 26-27 minutes. Now we're lucky if they're 20 minutes long.


And some shows, when they return after the commercials, replay the previous 30-60 seconds you just watched. Very easy now to shrink most 30 minute shows to 15 minutes. Even an hour long show, as somebody stated, is easily viewed in 40 minutes or less.


I've also somehow trained myself to ignore the crawlers and other peripheral garbage they show. It's almost as if I look through it, not even noticing any longer.


Actually don't mind the product placement, at least it's real, not some goofy made-up name that is really distracting.

Nov 14, 2012 1:29AM
its a free market  therefore  if we the people choose to skip ads  thats are right  these advertisers need to get the message  you win some and you lose sum its a new era  and advertisers need to get with the program  if we wanna buy your product we know where to find you  you dont need to have your ad all over the tv for us to know about it  if we want something you make we will know about it as we shop the stores  so get with the times 
Nov 14, 2012 1:26AM

The problem is that there are too many players  in the entertainment marketplace. It has become so factionalized that the audiences are too small to support quality  free TV programs. We demanded ever more choices and we got them and now we have to deal with the consequences. 


I grew up with three free broadcast netwoks and never felt deprived.. Now we have hundreds of venues most of which are not worth the electricity it takes to watch them and we have to pay for almost all.  I now spend more time online than in front of the TV. Who wants to watch the news or weather 24 hours a day or endless reruns? Not me.

Nov 13, 2012 11:59PM
The cable industry is what killed FREE TV......Don't mistake it.
Nov 13, 2012 10:02PM
Free TV. That's laughable. If Popsi, Budwizer, Sealis, et al would like to pay my 250.00 per month DirecTV bill, I would be glad to watch their banal advertisements (which never sway me, they just irritate me). Viva la DVR!
Nov 13, 2012 9:31PM
I never watch ads on TV or any other media, including billboards.  I have trained my mind to work on other things I need to do until my peripheral vision tells me the ad is finished or gone by. 
Corporations who prey on dumb people should be jailed like pedofiles who prey on innocent kids... just sayin.....

Corporate america cant wait for the generations 35-and older to die so they can have a population of corporate brainwashed individuals who do not remember free TV.... Ads dont work anyway.. and those that say they do... will throw numbers of sales from the corporate brainwashed youth who were raised on pay TV  and whom don't know any better.

Nov 13, 2012 9:20PM

I am not killing free TV. The networks are killing themselves. I would not object to watching one or two 30 second commercials but to have to watch 6 or 8  30 second commercials every 10 minutes is ridiculous. I am paying $200.00 a month now to watch 20 minutes of commercials every hour. (Not if I can avoid it.)


The networks are spending way to much money to produce a show that they think I will watch even though it is 33% commercials.


Wake up America they are selling us goods we do not need and can not afford so they can get rich,


I'll keep watching my DVR and the cable companies are getting rich off that.

Nov 13, 2012 9:19PM
Didn't know we are watching these shows for free.  Cable cost me $125 + a month.  Why am I paying to watch advertisements that are being paid for by the vendors.  If we didn't have to pay for cable we might be more apt to watch the commercials.  I don't know about everyone else but it seems like double dipping to me.
Nov 13, 2012 9:15PM
Who cares.  They can have my TV  I am just fine not watching it.  But when you can watch a 1 hour program in 40 minutes then there is something wrong.  I don't buy stuff because of advertising.  I don't know about most people but when you see a commercial once I don't need to see it again and sometimes they run the same one twice in a row as if it were 2 different ones, now who is the dummy.

Nov 13, 2012 8:59PM
I skip ads because in a 30 min show there are 15 mins of ads.  If I have to end up watching shameless plugs in my shows, I will just stop watching altogether.  I have already chopped my cable bill in half by dropping most of the " extra" channel packages. Why should I pay $100 for a month of TV when half of it is mindless ads?   Would you pay to watch commercials for 2 weeks straight???
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