Clutter on Broadcast Rises

Apr 12, 2004  •  Post A Comment

The broadcast airwaves were even more cluttered last year, much to the consternation of a leading ad buying agency.
A new survey by MindShare found that for the first time, three of the Big 4 networks broadcast more than 15 minutes of what’s called “nonprogram” material per hour during prime time in 2003. That is up from one network, ABC, that was over 15 minutes in 2002. Nonprogram material includes commercials, public service announcements and promos. It does not include the end credits on shows.
According to the survey, ABC was once again the most cluttered network, with 15 minutes and 31 seconds of nonprogram material per hour, up 2 percent from 2002. Fox broke the 15-minute barrier for the first time with 15:13 in nonprogram material, up 3 percent from the previous year. NBC was up 2 percent overall to 15:07. CBS was the least cluttered at 14:18, up 1 percent.
An increase of 3 percent might not seem like much, but “1 [percent] or 2 percent a year since 1984 is really a lot,” said Debbie Solomon, senior partner and group research director at MindShare in Chicago. She noted that until 1984, the National Association of Broadcasters had a code that called for no more than 91/2 minutes of nonprogram material per hour.
Advertisers are alarmed about clutter because it makes viewers tune out both shows and commercials.
“Clutter is the only area in which every single study agrees,” Ms. Solomon said. “Clutter is a bad thing. As an advertiser I don’t want to do something that hurts my commercial impact.”
Too much clutter causes viewers to confuse which message came from which advertisers, or to forget the messages entirely, she said.
She added that clutter impacts how people relate to the programming they watch. “If there are too many commercials, it makes it harder for viewers to find the shows they’re watching if they flip the channel,” she said.
Ms. Solomon said advertisers recognize that broadcasters need to make money by selling more commercials. Nevertheless, she said, “We are concerned about the continuing deterioration of the TV environment caused by the increasing number of distracting elements present in prime time. More restraint would be most welcome.”
The broadcast networks declined to comment on MindShare’s clutter study.
According to the report, CBS logged the biggest increase in the amount of network commercial time, up 3 percent to 9 minutes and 19 seconds per hour. And while NBC’s total nonprogram minutes rose, its network commercial minutes and total commercial minutes (including local breaks) went down.
During the fourth quarter, the most cluttered shows included “The Bachelor,” with 18:08 of nonprogram materials, “My Wife and Kids” at 17:40, “Everybody Loves Raymond” at 16:15, “Friends” at 16:06 and “Survivor: Pearl Islands” at 16:05.
Ms. Solomon noted in her report that other forms of clutter are also “creeping onto the TV screen.” In addition to network bugs in the corner of the screen, some channels are running animated promotions for upcoming shows during programming, digital text appears especially during news shows, and pop-up ads are appearing on Fox, MTV and other cable channels.
The study, which is based on data from TNS Media Intelligence/CMR, showed that several cable networks had lower amounts of clutter in prime time.
Among the 10 major cable networks listed in the MindShare study, only MTV exceeded 15 minutes per hour in prime time. At 15:36, it also topped ABC, the most cluttered broadcast network.
Clutter increased by 11 percent on Lifetime to 14:25 and by 7 percent on MSNBC. Clutter declined by 8 percent on Discovery to 12:28. ESPN racked up only 11:48 of clutter.
“Some of the cable network are promoting their less cluttered status,” Ms. Solomon said.
One way of reducing ad clutter is by creating special sponsorship packages. In her report, Ms. Solomon noted that Ford sponsored the premiere of Fox’s “24,” and that episode ran commercial-free.
“More of the cable networks are offering that kind of thing,” she said, pointing out Hallmark, which is trying to position itself as a network that makes advertiser-friendly sponsorship deals. “You can try to negotiate for a less cluttered environment,” she said. “You can make it known to the networks what is acceptable and what’s not acceptable.”