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article imageTV Advertising is in a Crisis

By unusualsuspect     May 29, 2007 in Entertainment
People aren't watching the ads. "Fueled by a growing sense of desperation, networks are inserting games, quizzes and mini-dramas into commercial breaks. They're incorporating more product pitches into programming."
Pardon me if I can't manage a few tears for the poor advertisers, besieged by DVR owners who skip through the ads, and by those rude viewers who treat the ad breaks as if they're simply a cue for trips to the bathroom or the fridge. " 'We all need to become more creative in how we incorporate sponsors into a program,' said Ed Swindler, executive vice president for NBC Universal ad sales."
It looks as if "creative" is going to mean more stealth advertising, making ads more entertaining, and making the distinction between content and advertising ever more fuzzy. Recent experiments: the CW tried "content wraps." Instead of normal ads, the advertiser, a hair care company, offered "beauty tips and interviews with the network's stars, all involving the company's products." The finale of a TNT mini-series directed viewers to a website full of a sponsor's ads. TBS bunched a series of funny ads together in a "pod," and promoted them as an additional destination for viewers.
You can look forward to all kinds of new advertising gimmicks when the Fall season starts. Two networks will premier an entertainment news magazine and a talent contest (Now there's a couple of original ideas!), and the CW will be trying out "cwickies," five-second ads scattered throughout the show, leading to a final, longer ad.
The networks seem most concerned with the growth of DVR use, but I suspect that all their efforts to cram still more ads down viewers' throats is going to backfire in the long run. Technology is going in another direction entirely, making content available independently of advertisers and their ability to dictate what they will and won't pay for. It's already clear that people are willing to pay for downloads of their favorite shows, and will be even more willing if ads aren't part of the show. The DVD market is booming, and for those who aren't in a hurry, buying or renting their favorites is already a viable option. If the networks follow some of the movie studios in reducing the lag-time between original showing and DVD availability, the profit from sales and rentals could eventually surpass advertising income.
In the meantime, be on the watch for "undercover" ads, and don't make the mistake of thinking that "creativity" in advertising means fewer ads. It will probably mean just the opposite.
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