Clutter Reaches All-Time High

May 12, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Clutter is worse than ever in prime time, reaching an all-time high last year on the broadcast Big 4.
In fact, in 2002, almost a quarter of every hour of Big 4 prime was given over to the clutter brew of nonprogram material, which includes commercials, promos and public service announcements.
That’s the topline conclusion of Clutter Watch 2002, MindShare’s annual examination of clutter on ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC, the four biggest broadcast networks, and on 10 major cable networks.
ABC was the most cluttered broadcast network again in 2002, with 15 minutes, 16 seconds of nonprogram material per prime-time hour, according to Chicago-based MindShare. That’s up from 15:02 in 2001, when it also was most cluttered of the Big 4. MTV, which MindShare did not measure in 2001, has the dubious distinction of being the most cluttered of the cable networks measured, with almost 15:25 of nonprogram material per hour of prime.
Fox Broadcasting, which last year was the least cluttered of the Big 4, showed the greatest year-to-year clutter increase in 2002, to 14:47 from 13:44 the previous year. Fox passed both CBS and NBC, which were down 5 seconds each from their 2001 clutter levels.
Clutter “is at an all-time high,” said the report’s author, Debbie Solomon, senior partner, group research director, MindShare. “It just keeps getting worse. Unbelievable.”
While there are wide variations among cable networks, the good news for cable is that it is generally less cluttered than the broadcast networks, according to the report. MindShare found Fox News Channel to be the least cluttered with commercials of the cable networks studied, with 8:21 in commercial time out of a total of 12:20 in nonprogram time per prime-time hour. ESPN was the cable network with the fewest total nonprogram minutes per hour, 11:31.
Among cable networks that MindShare also studied in 2001 clutter was “flat or down” at Lifetime, TNT, USA and ESPN.
New forms of clutter are becoming increasingly prevalent too, with the television screen “getting more crowded when the programs are on,” according to MindShare. The report singled out “snipes,” the digital crawls on the bottom of the screen, and “flash overlays,” similar to Internet pop-up ads, the latter on Fox and MTV, as the newest additions to the clutter menagerie.
Viewers react to the cluttered commercial environment by tuning out the ads, according to a recent MindShare online study of approximately 1,500 adults. Of those surveyed, 71 percent said there is too much advertising on television and 47 percent said they change channels when the commercials come on.
“Avoiding clutter is paying off for some advertisers,” the report states, noting that when Ford sponsored the commercial-free premiere of Fox’s 24 last fall, it “earned a recall score that indexed at 237 compared to the average brand recall for the time period.” Furthermore, according to Ms. Solomon, at least one network, AMC, is pitching its limited clutter load as an attraction for advertisers. AMC wasn’t on the list of measured cable networks in the past year, Ms. Solomon said, but is likely to be next year, “to see if they’ve kept to their promise.”
The most cluttered programs on television are sometimes among the most popular with viewers overall or with desirable demos, but just as often they are lower-rated shows, according to Ms. Solomon. She said there was no discernible pattern among prime-time series that carried the highest levels of clutter. While clutter loads vary from month to month on individual networks and in individual shows, MindShare found that programs with exceptionally high levels of clutter last November and December included NBC’s Will & Grace (18:47 of nonprogram material per hour of programming), ABC’s George Lopez (18:40), ABC’s airing of Monk (17:53), Fox’s The Simpsons (17:03), Fox’s King of the Hill (17:00), ABC’s Alias (16:30), NBC’s Good Morning, Miami (16:20) and CBS’s CSI: Miami (15:55).
Clutter levels at ABC and CBS dipped slightly last November and December; Fox’s clutter level dropped in October. May was ABC’s most cluttered month, with the Alphabet Network clocking almost 16 minutes of nonprogram material per hour of prime. For cable overall, the first quarter of last year was its least cluttered.
MindShare provides one of two annual clutter reports that are closely followed on both Madison Avenue and Broadcast Row. The other is from the American Association of Advertising Agencies, but that group did not release a report for 2002. Customarily, the AAAA’s clutter report includes credit rolls in its definition of clutter. MindShare’s report is an exhaustive census, measuring all prime time for the full year on 14 networks.
Last year, both MindShare and the AAAA’s report found clutter at an all-time high.
Senior executives at ABC, Fox and MTV did not reply to specific requests for comment or declined comment about the MindShare report. In the past, however, executives of ABC and other networks have said that the clutter tally penalizes them for their socially worthy public service announcements.
“The average network does not run more than a few minutes of PSAs in a day,” Ms. Solomon replied to that contention.