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From Disney to YouTube, Media Platforms are Worried About Ad Overload

Trends and Insight 284 Add to collection

Beleaguered US broadcasters are finding that less is more when it comes to advertising – will other markets and digital platforms learn from their struggle? Asks LBB’s Laura Swinton

From Disney to YouTube, Media Platforms are Worried About Ad Overload

Hard to believe, I know, but some people think there are too many ads. While you take a minute or so to recover from the shock of that bombshell, some of those people also rely on the making, selling or distributing said ads to pay the rent. Recently media owners – you know, those people whose whole business model is predicated on flogging as many ads as they possibly can – have joined in the self-flagellation. And the nexus of all this commercial commotion is, unsurprisingly, the United States, where experienced broadcasters can stretch seven minutes’ worth of TV show to an hour with archmagi-level ad-padding.

Ok, I exaggerate. The real figure is 44 minutes and 15 seconds stretched to one hour – but that still leaves 15 minutes and 38 seconds of ads.

This month, Disney CEO Bob Iger suggested that excessive ‘commercial interruption’ was driving viewers to ad-free streaming services like Netflix. As anyone who has tried to watch Modern Family on the Disney-owned ABC whilst on a trip to the States will testify, he’s certainly on to something. This quarter, another Disney broadcast brand, ESPN, suffered a decline in revenue.

And it’s not just Disney that’s having to rethink its content-commercial balance. Last year Turner said that they too were trimming commercial time and may even half it completely.    

In October and November last year, the NFL also revealed that they were thinking about shortening the amount of advertising in game broadcasts, to combat shrinking ratings. You see, while the Super Bowl is considered America’s annual adland highlight, poor ratings the rest of the season have seen TV networks give away ad space for free as ratings are so poor. Ouch.

Earlier in 2016, NBC was slated by viewers for cutting up the Olympics opening ceremony with too many ads.

The ad-supported model is a delicate symbiote. Without brands’ money, there’s no cash to produce and distribute content people love to watch. But when the ad breaks intrude too much and disrupt the flow of action or interrupt narrative, they ruin the experience of consuming the content. Chicken, egg. With the case of the NFL, the average match lasts over three hours but with just 11 minutes of action… and 20 commercial breaks. Yet another reason to stick to The Six Nations over the Super Bowl.

In a self-destructive, short term move, some networks have been combatting falling revenues and ratings by trying to cram in more ads.  Someone with more time on their hands than me might be inclined to do some A-B testing to see whether the ad trimmers or the ad padders are more likely to survive.

YouTube has clearly been watching this unfurl. They’ve just announced that they are planning to ditch un-skippable 30-second ads this year. Following the massive increase of ‘ad breaks’ or ‘mid-roll’ in longer YouTubev ideos, YouTube look like they are tinkering with the formula to avoid pissing off viewers too much. Facebook have also been testing mid-rolls and they too will have to be careful about not driving viewers away when they launch the feature later this year.

For now, this is an issue that is largely about the US. As any foreign visitor to the country can attest, the number of ad breaks alone is enough to drive anyone to piracy. Or, uh, legitimate subscription streaming services. But last May the EU announced that it’s changing the rules about prime time advertising, removing the 12-minute-per-hour commercial cap, in order to help TV broadcasters struggling to retain and win back viewers from the likes of Netflix. And, yes, that might help with a temporary morphine shot as networks pad out their most popular shows. But as we’ve seen in the US, when it comes to TV commercials, sometimes less really is more.

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LBB Editorial, Thu, 23 Feb 2017 16:21:07 GMT