In a dramatic acknowledgement of commercial clutter, NBCUniversal plans to decrease the number of ads by 20% and will lower overall ad time by 10% across its networks during original primetime programming. The move will take effect this fall and will affect some 50 individual original shows across broadcast and cable.
The company also said it will launch a new 60-second, contextually programmed “prime pod” in the first or last break of a show, which will be dedicated to up to two advertisers for stronger impact with viewers. NBC has already been tightening the ad breaks on Saturday Night Live, while cable programmers like Turner and Viacom have also made high-profile commitments to limiting ad breaks as viewers increasingly pursue commercial-free viewing options.
“Sometimes, a little bit less means a whole lot more,” said Linda Yaccarino, chairman of advertising and client partnerships for NBCU. “The industry knows that television is already the most effective advertising medium there is, but we need to make the experience better for viewers. We promised some big swings last fall to move our industry forward and this is the first one. Now, NBCUniversal is advancing the TV experience as consumer behavior has evolved: lower ad loads, more innovation and more targeting. We’re reimagining the advertising experience for consumers, marketers, and the entire industry.”
Over the past five years, NBCU acknowledged in its announcement, the video viewing space has become more cluttered with more than 400,000 advertisements added by one recent estimate. The concept driving the initiative is that by reducing the overall ad load, as the press release phrased it, “audiences will see fewer, better ads that are more relevant than ever before.”
The company said its research shows innovation in ads can make the spots more engaging and effective. Case in point, it said, is a suite of new products using picture-in-picture technology and social-first strategies. Artificial intelligence will also help target the ads to the right viewers, the company said.
Advertisers and programmers have been more willing than ever to experiment with traditional formulas. Six-second ads have become a common sight on air, as have longer-form ads thought to be more immersive. Despite pledges by many programmers to add more program time back in a typical hour, the numbers show commercial creep is continuing.
Pivotal Research analyst Brian Wieser, who closely tracks the ad-supported TV landscape, reported recently that December 2017 national commercial loads industry-wide rose to 11.1 minutes per hour for all Nielsen-monitored shows. In the same month in 2016, the number was 10.7 minutes and the year before 10.5 minutes.
Increasing clutter without a clear effort to move the needle the other way, Wieser said, will result in restless advertisers — an unsettling thought for a $75B business heading into the all-important upfront season.