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TV clutter reaches all-time high

Mar 11, 2002  •  Post A Comment

The prime-time national-broadcast TV environment continues to deteriorate, and clutter is at an all-time high.
That’s the top-line conclusion of “Clutter Watch 2001,” MindShare’s examination of clutter-nonprogram material, commercials, promos and PSAs-on the four biggest broadcast networks for calendar year 2001.
ABC is the most cluttered network, according to the report, which is the industry’s most complete study on the clutter issue.
“The Drew Carey Show” was one of the most cluttered of all prime-time series on broadcast television, averaging as much as nine minutes and 10 seconds of nonprogram material per half-hour program over the course of one month in 2001.
“Drew Carey” led the monthly clutter pack “not every month, but in a number of months,” said Debbie Solomon, MindShare senior partner and group research director.
ABC’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” was also near the top of the clutter heap with a monthly average of eight minutes and 30 seconds per half-hour program.
While it’s tempting to surmise that ABC’s groaning clutter load is a function of its falling ratings and the necessity for make-goods, over the few past few years “ABC has been more cluttered whether the ratings are up or the ratings are down,” Ms. Solomon said.
Senior ABC ad-sales executives were not available to comment for this article.
Other cluttered network shows included CBS’s “60 Minutes” and “Survivor” (averaging, respectively, 16:40 and 16:15 minutes of clutter per hour) and NBC’s “Weakest Link” and “Frasier” (averaging 18:15 and 17:10 of clutter per hour, respectively). In fact, MindShare concludes that the broadcast networks have “strategically allotted the highest number of nonprogram minutes to some of their highest-rated shows.”
For all of prime-time, CBS was more cluttered than in 2000, while NBC’s clutter load remained flat for 2001. Fox was down “slightly,” averaging 7:41 in commercials per prime-time hour last year, compared with 7:50 in 2000.
Clutter rose to its all-time height in 2001 despite factors that would lead one to expect diminished clutter, said Ms. Solomon, citing the advertiser pullbacks in the weeks and months post-Sept. 11. “The trend continued despite that,” Ms. Solomon said.
Viewers are being turned off by the cluttering of the TV landscape, and they may be turning off their sets, too, the MindShare report suggests, quoting a letter to the editor of the Chicago Tribune from one mad-as-hell viewer. After spending a night tuned in to ABC, the viewer wrote, “Thursday evening was the finale of my television viewing. … I was viewing commercials with a little bit of documentary mixed in. At the next “break” I counted them. Not three or four, not five or six, [but] ELEVEN commercials! To me that’s the end.”
The MindShare report also surveyed prime-time clutter on four big cable networks-ESPN, Lifetime, TNT and USA, finding that TNT “substantially added nonprogram time” in 2001, while the other three cable networks had “small changes from the comparable 2000 period.”
TNT added 33 seconds to its average per-hour prime-time commercial minutes in 2001, according to MindShare, bringing its total to 9:24 per hour, while ESPN was up just two seconds (to 9:11 per hour), Lifetime was up 23 seconds (to 11:24), and USA was up seven seconds (to 11:30, the highest level among the four cable networks). Despite the fact that TNT tallied the biggest increase in 2001, its per-hour commercial load is still second lowest of the four cable networks, a full two minutes per hour below the four-cable-network average of 11:24.
Senior cable executives were unavailable for comment. The conclusion of the MindShare report: “Economic realities exist, and we do not begrudge our national broadcast partners their right to make money. Nevertheless, we are alarmed about the continuing deterioration of the TV environment caused by increasing the number of distracting elements in prime time. More restraint would be most welcome.”
The MindShare Clutter Watch is far more complete than the recently released clutter report from the American Association of Advertising Agencies. The AAAA study only monitors two one-week periods (one in May, the other in November; MindShare’s study monitors clutter over the course of the full year.