There is a difference between intrusive/interruptive and invited T/V (Television/Video) advertising. And this difference will play a major role in determining the next-generation T/V business model.
The ad-supported television medium was built on the principle of limited interruption and minimal intrusion. These interruptions were originally permitted within the implied contract between viewers and broadcasters, started in radio, whereby the “cost” of watching free programming was the limited presence of advertising. At first it was very gentle (“and now, a brief word from your sponsor”) and limited. The NAB Television code of 1952 – the set of ethical guidelines established in the early days of US television – stated a guideline of 6 to 7 minutes of ads per hour in order for a broadcaster to show its “Seal of Good Practice” in the closing credits through the 1970s. A 2011 Chicago Tribune article reports that today “hour-long, prime-time show(s) (run) closer to 40 minutes, once you subtract (20 minutes of) commercials and network promotions. Many countries regulate the amount of advertising per hour, but a similar industry agreement in the U.S. was ruled illegal in the 1980s.”
Most television viewers are aware that there is more advertising than ever today, and that the amount of time ads interrupt TV content over linear television reached unreasonable levels long ago. And upwards of 80% of U.S. Households are paying for satellite/cable TV so it doesn’t even feel like the programming itself is free or paid for by advertising. The result? Viewers have seized upon technology, from remote controls in the 1960s to VCR fast-forwarding, second screen distractions, tuna sandwiches or anything they can get their hands on to avoid these interruptions today.
I’ve never believed that this behavior is just ad-avoidance. Rather, it is unreasonable-amounts-of-advertising avoidance. And I also believe it is intrusive-interruption avoidance.
Merriam Webster defines interruption as “to stop or hinder by breaking in” and intrusion as “to thrust oneself in without invitation, permission, or welcome.” Isn’t it time to stop the crazy cat-and-mouse game of trying to get ads seen by overloading and intrusively interrupting viewer-sought content with pushy ad messages, hoping to catch viewers in a non-avoidant moment?
Here are three ways that T/V advertising can leverage the new VOD delivery infrastructure to minimize the overzealous and intrusive interruption that now contaminates the entire ad-supported T/V eco-system, and I believe ultimately destroys the business model from which it is trying to benefit:
1) Use minimally intrusive short messages to request the viewer’s permission to present this “deal”: the exchange of their attention to a brief ad for a session of free, uninterrupted T/V content. In an on-demand world, such a quid-pro-quo “attention pay-wall” built on high CPV (Cost-Per-View) or CPCV (Cost-Per-Completed-View) pricing would provide viewable, verifiable engagement to the advertiser, while viewers truly committed to ad avoidance can have the option/choice to do a micro-payment or subscription for on-demand, totally commercial-free viewing. Yes – this is like the freemium models Pandora and other media content providers use. No one except content pirates would see this as an unfair offering.
2) Build upon the “pre-roll” concept, but eliminate “mid-roll” ads, which are simply a relic of the traditional television interruptive ad model. Why can’t viewers watch ads upfront, and then enjoy uninterrupted content afterward? An interactive ad would allow trackable verification of engagement throughout. While pre-roll is still technically intrusive (preventing the viewer from receiving the content they desire until an ad is run), this approach seems to have some acceptance through Hulu and other online content providers. I would recommend that all such pre-rolls have a “countdown ticker” to show viewers how much attention is being requested/how much time is left, reinforcing their sense of choice and voluntary participation.
3) Go beyond pre-roll and quid-pro-quo by allowing T/V ads to run in places where they needn’t be embedded prior to or in video “host” content. For instance, allow T/V ads to run within editorial content, not interrupting, but enhancing, content. A current client of mine does this by having video online ads appear below the fold between paragraphs of text editorial, running for 15 or 20 seconds, then disappearing. Unlike interstitials or pre-rolls, this approach doesn’t prevent the content from being seen in any way – hence the minimal intrusion. And unlike annoying “auto-play” content, the ads can be stopped, muted or paused based on the viewing behavior of the viewer.
In the end, I like to think about the Brendan Frasier character from the film “Blast From The Past”: a naive man who comes out into the world after being in a nuclear fallout shelter since the 1950s. Would he want to subject himself to having to watch 20 minutes of ads interrupting 40 minutes of content each hour on linear television, or would he gravitate to a way of watching T/V that allows him maximum entertainment with minimal intrusion or interruption?