Flash Forward to results: ABC cuts back on commercials

One of the more interesting defenses against consumers tuning out advertising is when advertisers cut back on the ads themselves. A few years back, Clear Channel was forced to retrench on the minutes of radio commercials per hour after it realized consumers were aghast at spot overload so switched the dial, hurting ratings. More recently Hulu.com launched its online video format with a similar less-is-more ad structure, with minimal paid interruptions.

Now big broadcast boy ABC is cutting back as well, reducing television commercials in its premiere episodes and not starting most spots until 15 minutes into the show. Jeff Bader, ABC Entertainment’s scheduling chief, told the Los Angeles Times “you hope the longer you keep them at the start of the show, the more likely they are to stick to it.” The gripping “Flash Forward,” which premieres this Thursday night, may go as long as 18 minutes before a commercial break.

A history of polluted networks

The tragedy of the commons is something marketers typically fail to think about until it’s too late. Telemarketing was the first victim, becoming so obnoxious that consumers eventually rebelled with the Do Not Call lists, almost killing the industry. Email spam became a joke with filters blocking most messages and a response rate something like 1 in 12.5 million. Now social media risks the same network counter-reaction: paid messages in blogs and tweets — not advertising, but paid opinions in which people profess to write what they want about a brand while being paid to do it — are coming from companies such as Izea, and we predict new filters will arise to block out the confusion. If such fuzzy sponsorships go too far, the utility of the network will be diminished, and all users, including marketers, may suffer the consequences.

Want proof? Try to set up a telemarketing program today, and let us know how well it works.

What advertisers fail to realize is we all need a healthy ecosystem for any communication to work. It’s not easy showing restraint, because you’re betting the lost revenue of today will be replaced by more viewers, and more resulting ad sales, tomorrow. But if advertising is kept inside its box, clearly marked with limits on how much time it consumes, consumers in turn will be more likely to pay attention and respond. As media planners, we find the ABC strategy intriguing … because the marketing messages that do get included are likely to break through.

2 thoughts on “Flash Forward to results: ABC cuts back on commercials

  1. >>What advertisers fail to realize is we all need a healthy ecosystem for any communication to work.< < Very true. And what is interesting to me is that this is just one instance of a more general principle that applies to all ecosystems. We need healthy environmental ecosystems, political ecosystems, etc. And, unfortunately, players within each of these ecosystems also fail to realize the importance of a healthy ecosystem, often striving for short-term wins while being blind to the long-term losses being incurred.

  2. The Local carrier of Flash Forward in Beaumont Texas has filled in what ABC didn’t. In fact the local station has over filled the time and we are loosing parts of the program. When the show returns, it is in mid-scene sometimes mid-sentence. Very frustrating, and I’ll bet corp. wouldn’t be pleased to know this.

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