FOX and NBC announce plans for less advertising

Americans have always had a love/hate relationship with television and advertising. The advertising idea actually started with radio programs in the 1930s and 1940s sponsored by one company. With the advent of television, the trend continued and through the 1950s there were programs such as Kraft Television Theatre and The Colgate Comedy Hour, programming paid for by one large corporation. Soap operas are still called soap operas today even though the advertising is for more than just soap. By the 1960s, Nielsen statistics allowed networks to gauge viewer interest during the evening, or 'prime', viewing time. The more people watching a particular program according to the Nielsen numbers, the more money a network could charge those advertisers. And so a marketing gold mine was discovered.

Television programs in the 1960s averaged fifty minutes of story to ten minutes of advertising time. By the late 1980s that margin shifted to forty-five minutes of program runtime and fifteen minutes of ads. The chipping away at program runtime continued through the 1990s and early 2000s until we have 41-43 minutes of runtime in an hour block today.

With the increase in ads, viewers fought back in various ways to avoid them. VCRs and later DVRs allowed viewers to fast-forward through the advertisements. Dish Network was sued by FOX in 2012 after creating AutoHop, an ability for Dish satellite subscribers to skip the ad breaks all together and never even see them. In recent years, NetFlix and Amazon Video gave viewers the chance to watch endless television without seeing any advertising at all.

So what's a traditional network to do? In recent weeks both FOX and NBCUniversal announced they want to reduce their ad-load on television programming. FOX advertising chief, Joe Marchese stated the lofty goal of only two minutes of advertising in a one hour program by 2020. NBC's Chairman of Advertising and Client Partnerships, Linda Yaccarino, vowed to reduce ad-loads by 20% by the end of 2018. Ms Yaccarino stated in an interview "There are more and more consumers who are liberated via technology from having to watch the sheer number of advertisements shown on traditional television."

This all sounds good, but viewers have to ask the question, what's the catch? Will the longer runtimes with fewer, and obviously more expensive, advert breaks be reserved for just the top two or three most popular programs on a network while the rest of the schedule maintains the current status quo of advertising? Will this result in another splurge of cheap-to-make reality and competition shows?

Networks have played with the idea of fewer adverts before. Both Fringe and Dollhouse ran on FOX in the mid-2000s with fewer ads. TNT and a few other cable networks have had "sponsored by" promos ahead of premiere episodes for programs such as Leverage and The Librarians that allowed the premiere episode to run a little longer with fewer ad breaks.

Scripted television is expensive to make. Actors, writers, sets, locations, all costs money and that money comes, in part, from advertising revenue. While neither FOX nor NBC stated exactly how they plan to deal with the lost money from fewer advertisements, both did float a few possibilities.

Marchese wants to change how advertising worth is determined. Instead of using the current metric with Nielsen of when a program, and thus the advertising, is watched, he would like to use a model of "time spent with content", though he doesn't say what that means or how it would work.

NBC suggested the idea of "prime pods" or prime advertising time at the beginning or end of a program that will "feature just two sponsors who can run commercials that play off the programming they support, as well as other elements." Note that "other elements" piece. NBC has also pondered split screen viewing, the concept that while a television program airs in part of the screen, advertisers or "other elements" could run in the other part that tie-in with the running program. And you didn't think anything could be worse than the banner adverts some networks run now!

There's also the potential for targeted advertising on television, similar to how internet advertising works. The Federal Communications Commission approved ATSC 3.0 or NextGenTV last fall. While it's being sold as a way to improve the audio and visual quality of programs, the new standard would also "bring many local television stations up to par with the latest in advertising technology and help them compete in a world of internet media." Needless to say, privacy advocates are concerned as it would allow local networks to collect data on viewing habits. According to the Washington Post, such information "will give broadcasters the ability to sell targeted advertising against their programming, something that's become common practice for ad giants such as Google and Facebook."

Something else to consider is what will television programs do with that extra time. Viewers certainly hope the time is filled with substance: character development, plot development, and the like. If you look at the shows from the 1960s, however, when episode runtimes were fifty minutes, there were a lot of long establishing shots or extended shootouts and car chases, not a lot of meat there even with the longer runtime.

The ad-based model for network television has been in trouble for the last few years, cord-cutting, declining viewership, and streaming services have eaten into what was once a profitable concern for networks. Will these new ideas from FOX and NBC lead the way with a balance of program runtime to advertising time that the networks, advertisers, and viewers can all live with, or is this the last gasp for ad-based network television? Currently, streaming services have very limited advertising, if they have any advertising at all. Will these new advertising models migrate to streaming the same way single sponsor advertising moved from radio to television?

Written by LadyShelley on Mar 9, 2018


CainCrow posted 9 months ago

That would be nice. I hate half hour shows that are only 18-22 minutes!!!

TonyMayhew posted 10 months ago

In the Uk, ITV, Channel 4 & Channel 5 all run ad breaks (Along with all the other Satellite/ Cable) channels). None of the BBC Channels carry commercials, as these are paid for by the television license fee.

What the BBC tend to do is, a lot of shows (Especially daytime shows) do not air for the full hour, but for 45mins. The shorter run time allows them to be easily sold to other countries, allowing those countries to then air it in a 60min slot with commercials. The 15min of space left at the end of a 45min programme isn't "filled" with anything. The next programme just starts.

An example for BBC 1 for March 13th:

11am The Sheriffs are Coming - Runtime, 45mins
11 :45 am Caught Red Handed - Runtime, 30mins
12:15pm Bargain Hunt - Runtime 45mins

With regards to ads in the US, I would personally prefer the 42-43min runtime with less on-screen splash ads that sometimes cover 50% of the screen during a programme. To say they are annoying is an understatement! The timings of those is never taken into consideration as they often appear in a crucial part of the episode. I have no problem with them squashing the end credits to a third of the screen to allow for ads or "Coming up next" promo's, but not during the actual episode.

LadyShelley posted 10 months ago

@SilverSurfer Reality is they have no clue how they plan to do any of this. :) It's all pie-in-the-sky at the moment. Something that was mentioned at the FOX announcement:

Mr. Marchese’s 2020 goal was part of his closing remarks. “It was sort of an aspiration or goal. Not a declaration,” said one ad buyer who attended the event. “His whole closing section was about the value of the commercial and if they can provide more value by limiting commercials and creating new commercialization it will be better for networks’ health and better for advertisers.”

So there's another little nugget in there similar to the NBC "other elements" namely "new commercialization" that's usually code for some sort of on screen advertising. ;)

SilverSurfer posted 10 months ago

@LadyShelley My example of 45 min blocks has more content ... an entire new 45 min show per 3 hour block (BTW, if they do develop NCIS:Miami I expect a cut/fee) ... and that can make economic sense ... new show = more international sales = more DVD/BluRay season sales = new Netflix/Hulu/etc sales. If CBS can make a profit on Dynasty with, what?, a 0.2 rating on the CW these folk can get blood from a stone.

LadyShelley posted 10 months ago

@SilverSurfer the additional production costs are not something they've thought of to be honest. That will all be affected by union contracts, too. With that said, top and bottom of the hour scheduling is, I think, too ingrained in the US at this point to change that either. The ad chiefs selling this are selling it as more content, not that you will have the same 41-43 minute episode stretched over an even longer timeframe.

As for UK programming, there's two different things in play. ITV for example is ad-revenue based, just like US networks, so ads are already built in to the episode length. As for the BBC, they are a little more fluid in the lengths of episodes and the extra 10-15 minutes left are used for mini nuggets of info or schedule announcements. (TonyMayhew feel free to correct me!)

SilverSurfer posted 10 months ago

@LadyShelley I dunno ... they are, IMHO, unlikely to spend the money required to increase the length of shows. Adding aprox 10 mins to a show that is aprox 40~45 mins is almost a 25% increase in cost per episode.

@pentar To me, Network promos/previews is still an ad ... if they are saying they're going to decrease ads per hour and try to pull something like that it won't go over well at all. Too much time on filler means too much chance the viewers they still have left are going to drift somewhere else and not return for the next show.

Doesn't the UK have schedules that include 45 minute blocks not just 30 or 60? If yes, how does that work out? I assume people get used to whatever the schedule.

LadyShelley posted 10 months ago

@pentar Oh yes, the in-show product placement. Bones had some particularly clunky dialog about the Prius I remember. Others are more subtle, everything being a Microsoft product in Hawaii Five-0 for example, or someone mentioned they "Binged" it instead of Google :eyeroll:

I wanted to add a link to the Family Guy episode that had Stewie in a lather about banners, but it just wouldn't fit, so I'll post it here:

pentar posted 10 months ago

I remember owning a ReplayTV in the early 2000s. It had a commercial skipping mode that worked poorly, so instead I used the convenient 30 second skip button that made replaying network shows easy.

We have all seen slick advertising within the context of a show, where a character is driving a Ford and comments on some new whiz bang feature that has little to do with the story line. Maybe we will see more of that. But I agree that there will be more explicit banner or animated screen overlay advertising coming our way that you cannot escape by fast forwarding.

I also wouldn't be surprised if some of this "extra" time per hour is used for Network promos/previews, news updates, or similar ideas.

LadyShelley posted 10 months ago

That doesn't sound like it. Both networks talked about decreasing "ad-load" or the number of advertisement slots available in a given hour block of time. What everyone is taking away from that is that something like Lethal Weapon will still air from 8-9PM but there will be fewer adverts offered within that time slot. What that could mean is more onscreen ads such as banners, or split screens. (which I can't imagine ever working. People hate the intrusive banners now imagine half the screen taken away to allow constant advertising.)

SilverSurfer posted 10 months ago

I could be wrong, but I assume they won't be making shows longer but just adjusting their time slots ...

8-9 NCIS

9-10 NCIS:LA

10-11 NCIS: NO


8-8:45 NCIS

8:45-9:30 NCIS:LA

9:30-10:15 NCIS:NO

10:15-11 NCIS:Miami (because CSI Miami worked so well)

Login to leave a comment on this article.