How Many Ads?

Disclosure: BJ&A has consulted with Kantar Media on the Dimension study mentioned here

It has been reported that both ITV and Channel 4 have been arguing for the maximum number of ads per hour limit to be lifted. Historically the major UK broadcasters have operated at 7 minutes per hour, rising to 8 in primetime. Smaller broadcasters have been known to run to 9 minutes, still way below the EU maximum of 20%, or 12 minutes per hour. In the US, the figure varies by network but averages around the 12-minute mark.

Just over a year ago Fox in the US were talking of reducing their ad load to 2 minutes per hour by 2020, a move they positioned as being about delivering a superior experience to their viewers.

The IPA, in the person of Wavemaker’s Tom George, Chair of the Association’s Media Futures Group has argued persuasively that the ITV/C4 limit should not be extended.

Increasing the minutage is an easy, but misguided approach by our broadcasters. Even assuming that there is latent, unmet demand for TV airtime beyond a few blockbuster shows (which may or may not be the case) the point is that what you gain in short-term revenue you lose in the effectiveness of your medium.

It’s a little odd that the medium that argues most cogently for advertising effectiveness being a long-term game should themselves be looking so short-term.

From the consumer standpoint, more ads are not necessarily seen as a good thing.

Over the last three years, Kantar Media has produced original research into the biggest issues facing the media end of the communications industry. The research involves a mix of quantitative consumer work, and qualitative work designed to unearth the issues faced by industry leaders across five large ad markets (USA, China, Brazil, UK, France).

One issue explored is the balance between subscriptions and ad funded models.

On the one extreme we have the success of Netflix, with zero ads and thus a business model reliant on subscriptions; at the other the large traditional broadcasters (like ITV) who rely primarily on ads to fund the service (and yes I know I’m simplifying and yes I know that revenue from programme sales exists).

The latest, 2019 Dimension study contains a wealth of insight into why consumers sign up for subscription services (it’s all about content, as opposed to ad avoidance); what they like and dislike about advertising (excessive frequency, the bane of so many online campaigns, features heavily); and the numbers choosing to adblock (pretty consistent over the three years at c 21%).

Setting aside the quantitative insights, one interesting quote stands out, from a US-based research and broadcasting consultant, Howard Shimmel (ex Nielsen and Turner Broadcasting) of Janus Strategy and Insights.

Howard was speculating on what would happen should Netflix decide at some point to accept ads – something that is increasingly being seen as a matter of when not if.

“One thing Netflix won’t do is to make the same mistakes as linear TV in cluttering up their experience. There are some networks that make you watch one minute of non-programme time for every two minutes of content! If Netflix creates an ad model, it will be far more tailored to consumers.”

Or, as Rhiannon Murphy from the7stars put it from the advertisers’ point-of-view: “Advertisers are not crying out for more ads but for the ability to reach the audience they used to get.”

Consumer experiences are important, upset the delicate balance between the number of ads, and the on-screen look to viewers and you’re on a very short road with no turning back possible.

Broadcasters need to take into account the views of both consumers and their paying customers before rushing after an illusionary pot of gold.


1 Comment
  1. Some of the US networks have indeed shortened some breaks. They launch into their first prime time break announcing “Xxxxx (name of program) will be back in one minute”. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it on NBC and others. At least that one break is “doable” as a viewer. But I still don’t watch live prime time TV anymore. Only recorded so I can fast forward…

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