When we think of the most annoying aspects to television, commercials are said to be the numero uno problem in why many venture off to cable rather than watch the mainstay networks. Not that some cable networks don’t have even more commercials than ABC, CBS, NBC or Fox do. Some of the less profitable cable channels such as History Channel or Discovery seem to have commercials every three minutes while we watch a half-hour show about a battle in WWII or string theory. The same can be said of AMC (which didn’t used to have commercials) and all the other basic cable networks. Then there’s the blessing of Turner Classic Movies where you can watch classic movies for once without having to see ten Shamwow commercials within an hour. If you’re a sycophant to HBO and Showtime, the same blessings have always been there.
Now you have heavily commercialized Fox wanting to grab all those viewers who’ve escaped to the non-commercials channels where the only breaks are in-between movies and series programming.
Last year, when Fox came up with an ingenious plan to limit commercial interruptions during this season’s shows, it made the producers of various new Fox shows ecstatic they’d have an approx. extra six minutes to add to their shows. In the world of TV dramas (notice that sitcoms no longer matter in the equation), adding six minutes to the storyline can make a huge difference in fleshing out a story. But, unfortunately, this process wasn’t done to help the producers/writers of Fox’s TV series lineup. Instead, it was really a capitulation to the ADD crowd.
Despite people with ADD undeniably making up a lot of our culture, I’m one to subscribe to the notion that it’s not as prevalent in TV viewers as network execs think it is. When Fox execs labeled their new plan “Remote-Free TV”, you know exactly what they had in mind and why they’re doing it. The notion is that the American populace that still watches commercial TV doesn’t have the patience to stick with a show if they see too many commercials and will flip the dial to a non-commercial cable network instead. The other fear is the age of TiVo and DVR’s where you can fast-forward through commercials in a breeze.
Well, even those who lived in the VCR era remember doing that the old-fashioned way while playing back a show we taped the night before. Back in a different era, though, there wasn’t that much annoyance with commercials–and not just because people had no choice in the matter due to there only being a three-channel TV universe prior to the 80’s. Commercials in general were more creative and appealing in the first four decades of network television. Since the 90’s, however, all those old Madison Avenue creative minds who created advertising classics either died or went into the good night of retirement, only to hand the torch over to a new generation who had messy ideas that only appeal to the drooled-over 18-34 demographic.
The networks don’t look at it that way and only find ways to grab viewers, no matter what it takes. Quality in commercials isn’t going to change, yet Fox thinks that setting aside special times during an hour-long drama will make the commercials stand out more from a psychological point of view.
If only there wasn’t such a disconnect of understanding between Madison Avenue, viewers and the networks, there probably wouldn’t be the likely failure of Fox’s innovative cutting of their commercial time…
There shouldn’t be a surprise that there’s disconnectedness between viewers and network execs. When our own government usually has no clue of the realities the American people are going through (particularly the lower and middle class), then why would it be a shock others sitting in their ivory towers wouldn’t know what people are truly watching in their living rooms? While Nielsen ratings totals are only a small fraction of the viewing reality, networks relying on the permeation of statistics on paper or figures through other grapevines doesn’t make for smart business moves.
Chances are, Fox cutting time on their commercials won’t make any difference on viewership than the ratings numbers they already have. Habits have already long been set, and those annoyed with the state of most commercials today aren’t about to tune in thinking they’ll see less of them. As usual, it’ll depend on how good the Fox shows are rather than any other factor.
Only if commercials can start becoming buzz-worthy again where you look forward to seeing a commercial in the old spirit of Madison Avenue where charm and creativity truly ruled will people want to watch network shows with myriad commercial breaks. Most ads today oddly repel rather than attract, which is something TV viewers have, yes, noticed. I still suspect those who can’t keep their attention span lasting longer than a flea’s brain function are the minority crowd propping non-commercial cable up in the ratings.
The only winner in Fox’s cutting of commercial time is the writers of the shows themselves. How odd the writers get more creative time just because the networks seem to have the wrong idea about the public’s perception of commercials. Whether it affects ratings or not, you can expect ABC, CBS and NBC to start doing the same thing before long in order to compete with cable. When the networks realize it won’t make any difference, maybe someone will have an epiphany and remember back to when people didn’t mind the integration of inventively good commercials every five minutes during their favorite TV shows…