Beginning in fourth-quarter 2016, truTV will extend the amount of programming time during each new hour of original, prime programming by more than 20%, which the network claims will give it the lowest average commercial and promo time in all of television. The network says it is going from about 19-20 minutes of non-programming time per hour — non-programming time including national and local ads plus promo inventory — to 10 minutes per hour.
The Turner network’s ad de-cluttering stands in marked contrast to warnings from Wall Street analysts about the industry’s hazardous habit of stuffing shows with more and more ads, to compensate for ratings drops. The analysts have particularly cited basic cable networks in their reports. According to Bernstein Research analyst Todd Juenger, truTV had a heavy load in Q3, but it was about the same as it was in same period last year.
Announced today, the truTV viewer will see 45 additional hours of primetime – think Impractical Jokers, Billy On The Street, etc. – during Q4 2016, with plans to expand beyond that in 2017.
Move comes a year after truTV recast itself as a comedy network sporting a “Way More Fun” tag which, it said in today’s announcement, has resulted in an audience that’s “significantly younger (45% growth in the demo), richer and smarter” than previously. The new branding brought truTV an October audience median age of 33 – about seven years younger than a year ago.
In January, Bernstein Research’s Todd Juenger called “desperate” the trend of media companies to significantly bulk up the amount of primetime commercial minutes in their programs in Q4 to help compensate for a decline in viewing. Increasing clutter is short-sighted, Juenger cautioned, because “viewer engagement is certainly reduced” leaving buyers reaching the “brain-dead.” And that “doesn’t seem like an attractive audience target for many brands, except maybe certain infomercial products.” In some cases, he noted commercial time increases of more than 3.5% vs the last three months of 2013.
Analysts, who have identified the clutter problem, warned it’s easy to become hooked on the strategy, as radio companies learned a decade ago, and noted, predictably, that network owners engaging in the most clutter were those with the worst ratings trends. Wall Street-ers have warned the Band-Aid approach is not sustainable because TV’s ability to control the supply of advertising is going away as a potentially limitless supply of video inventory becomes available via subscription services that are ad-free and other sources.
In today’s announcement, truTV president and programming chief Chris Linn called the network’s move “game-changing” and said he was “excited for truTV to be a first mover in the industry to deliver a better experience for our viewers.” And Turner EVP Joe Hogan forecast the less cluttered lineup would be considered by advertisers to be a “more premium environment with greater impact” – which is kind of what the Wall Street analysts had been preaching.