At the winter TCA press tour, TNT and TBS president Kevin Reilly unveiled a plan to reduce ad load by 50% on all new TNT drama series going forward. The first show with fewer commercials (around 10 min per hour), is Animal Kingdom, which launched this summer. TNT made reduced ad inventory deals for 2017 at the recent upfront to “robust response” from advertisers, Reilly said. “It has been embraced by the ad community,” he said.
TNT is currently running detailed studies for clients but at first blush, “we have had very, very good results,” Reilly said. Animal Kingdom, which has been renewed for a second season, has been on a upward ratings trajectory, posting rating increases virtually every week, and Reilly believes that the improved viewer experience because of reduced ad load, “is part of the reason for the week-to week-growth… And the show is really good too,” he added.
Reilly also noted that preliminarily results indicate higher viewer retention (smaller dips) during commercial breaks and higher brand recall for the commercials in episodes with a reduced ad load — both crucial factors for advertisers. (Under the current version of the model, the number of commercial pods remains the same but they are shorter. Reducing the number of ad breaks could be revisited in the future, Reilly said.)
Reilly said that he would like to expand the ad reduction model to TBS but there is no plan to do that in the next year. (Smaller Turner network TruTV will introduce 50% reduction in its original series this fall.)
But, “we can’t do it alone,” Reilly said. “If we are the only ones doing it, we will have to go back (to full ad load).”
Back in January, Reilly admitted that the move was not easy to make. “I can reduce the ad load tomorrow, but if I do it, a billion dollars will get off my book,” he said back then. For the model to work, advertisers have to be willing to pay premium for commercials in the smaller pods, which, along with higher ratings, should offset the lost ad inventory.
“We are not losing money on this,” Reilly told Deadline. “If nobody else does it but we continue to write business and get enough advertisers who continue to engage, we can sustain that.” Still, having the support of the other nets will help the reduce ad load model to get traction and acceptance the way it happened with C7 ratings, which advertisers were initially reluctant to use as currency. “When something becomes commonplace, it becomes more of a the lay of the land.”
Early data points to the advantages of reducing commercials. “I believe everybody knows it’s time to make that change,” Reilly said. “We want this to happen across the dial on TV.”
Reilly said that showrunners of new TNT shows have embraced the idea of having 10 more minutes of content per episode. “Nobody wants enormous interruptions in the middle of their stories,” he said.
Upcoming TNT drama series that will run with fewer commercials include Good Behavior, Will and The Alienist. Going forward with the plan is setting the network apart, according to Reilly.
“We are going to be the gold standard on commercial television,” he said.