May 16, 2008

It’s About Time: Fox TV Acknowledges That Less Is More

Fox TV has a long history of upsetting the status quo. At its launch, it gave the finger to the mainstream networks and introduced edgier shows such as “The Simpsons,” “In Living Color” and “Married With Children.” Sure, this meant smaller overall audiences than its rivals, but it scored with the ever desirable 18-49 demo, whom advertisers love. Now Fox TV is rocking the ad world again… Fox is intentionally selling fewer ads during select primetime broadcasts (namely, JJ Abrams’ “Fringe” and Joss Whedon’s “Dollhouse”). From my perspective as both an ad guy and TV viewer, it’s overdue brilliance.

For advertisers: This reduces clutter so that the ads stand out more and generate more recall (the number of viewers who can remember seeing the ad). Ideally, it also means fewer viewers flipping away or skipping commercials on TiVo.

For viewers: This means more actual show (approximately 50 minutes per hour, as opposed to the current 42), fewer interruptions and overall less advertising. Since advertisers will pay more per spot, it will hopefully inspire the ad agencies to produce better ads. Why blow all that media-buying money on weak creative?

It’s a move many of my advertising colleagues have been recommending for years — ad clutter benefits no one. But for this to happen, it took TV viewer migration to the Internet; TiVo enabling commercial skipping; and Fox’s ad sales president being assaulted by commercials while watching a workout-room TV. (Don’t you wish more TV execs would actually watch TV?)

My only question: Why stop there?

As a football fan, I’d love to see the same reduction applied to games, where it seems a commercial is inserted between every other play. Seriously, do we need commercial breaks before and after kickoffs?

So high-five to Fox — now keep going.

Update 9/9/8: So I caught the first episode of “Fringe” — make that, the first half of “Fringe,” and I loved the short commercial breaks, particularly since many of the commercials were movie trailers. For movie buffs like myself, trailers are as much entertainment as they are advertising. The downside? Those high-intensity trailers for the new 007 flick (Quantum of Solace) and Max Payne made “Fringe” seem plodding by comparison. Hence, I watched only half of the episode. Between the absurdist plot and the slow pacing, I decided I’d rather blog. I guess I won’t be seeing those ads after all.

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Freddy is the Founder & Creative Strategist of Atomic Tango. He also teaches at the University of Southern California (go Trojans!), shoots pool somewhat adequately, and herds cats. Freddy received his BA from Harvard and his MBA from USC.

2 Responses

  1. In an age progressing to the likes of Blade Runner with advertising blimps floating around or Minority Report with its targeted retinal scans this is like a breath of fresh air. I’ve always believed in quality of quantity and its nice to see I’m not the only one…

  2. They’ve been doing this in Israel for a while now, actually, though a bit differently. Oftentimes, especially when a series premieres, network TV stations will air the entire show without commercial breaks (I think 24 did this one season?) or with only one break during the entire show. They also do it randomly on certain shows or days (there isn’t a sweeps-type event, but if one channel has something big, the other may go to “extreme” measures to retain its own audience). It is great for the viewers, definitely.

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