Media Trends: Less IS More

The amount of TV commercial time has been on a steady upward tick since the advent of the medium, so if you feel you’re watching more ads than ever before, you’re right! The average amount of commercial time per hour in 1952 was 13%. As of last year, it was up to 32%. Now when you sit down to watch your favorite hour-long drama you could be taking in 19 minutes worth of ads along with your 41 minutes of programming. Nothing quite hampers the action of Jack Bauer pursuing a terrorist or the Oceanic 815 survivors running for their lives like a four to five minute block of ads.

With so many viewing options available such as online streaming and iTunes downloads of most network shows, plus the rise of Digital Video Recorder (DVR) usage, it makes sitting through all of those ads even harder as a TV viewer. More importantly, as a TV advertiser you have to be wondering who is still actually seeing your ad. Radio has been addressing this same issue for a while by offering fewer spot avails at higher premiums (such as Clear Channel’s “Less Is More” campaign, where the company mandated the use of shorter :30 spots instead of :60’s) to reduce tune out during commercial breaks.

Now, the TV networks are experimenting as well. Fox and TBS have both begun inventory reduction initiatives designed to help keep eyeballs glued to the screen during shorter breaks. TBS has begun “More Movie…Less Commercials” wherein they run classic Hollywood flicks in a shorter time period with fewer ads (anyone who’s ever watched a two-hour movie stretched out to three on cable can appreciate that!) Fox started “Remote-Free-TV” with it’s premiere of Fringe last fall and recently expanded the initiative with Dollhouse. According to, Fox “sells fewer ad spots during Dollhouse and Fringe – about 10 minutes – at a higher price, with the assumption that viewers would be more engaged with fewer ads, and less likely to fast-forward through them if they had TiVo’d the show.”

Naturally, this increased retention rate comes with a price. Fox has been able to pull 40% to 50% premiums for ads sold during Fringe, making it the most expensive show on Tuesdays by far, according to The New York Times. But, “brand recall for those ads was 22% higher during Fringe than for most of prime time’s other dramas” adds

As with any new business model, this will certainly take time to perfect. But it’s an exciting trend that will only continue to grow as networks work to make their inventory more valuable to advertisers. It’s a win-win for viewers and advertisers alike.