One gigantic fear within the cable industry is the migration of consumers to watching television on the web — via services such as Hulu — will undermine their lucrative subscription model. After all, why pay $150 a month for cable if you get shows for free online? So the obvious defense is to entangle cable subscribers to watch their cable TV on the web as well. The cable industry is hyping this with a so-called TV Everywhere movement.
Comcast is the latest cable provider rolling out a national web TV service, called Fancast XFINITY TV. The service will give free Comcast cable content on the web to any authenticated cable subscriber (at first to only subscribers of both Comcast cable and Internet service, and in about 6 months opening up to any Comcast cable users).
But the ads, dear, are heavy.
There’s a tiny problem — analysts don’t know if users will accept the “full advertising load” of cable programming in an online format. Hulu.com, for instance, has compressed ads to 15-second formats and shows only 2 minutes of commercials per 30 minutes of programming vs. the 8 minutes typically shown on a TV set. With online users able to immediately click away at the first sign of boredom, Comcast and other cable giants have two huge hurdles: first, get users to their online TV portals, and second, hope the commercial load of old TV models doesn’t make web users touch that dial. Nielsen has reported that consumers’ “concurrent media use” spikes when spots air on traditional live television; good luck avoiding such switches online when they have a mouse in hand.
In a way, cable companies and broadcasters are to blame for this dilemma. The load of commercials has been increasing ever since Bulova ran the world’s first TV spot, a 10-second ad, in 1941. An average hour of U.S. television now includes only 42 minutes of real programming, down from 51 minutes in the 1960s — meaning that any reruns from that period must be cut by 9 minutes. Television commercials now take up twice the time they once did. If consumers rebel online, perhaps it’s because commercials have gone too far.