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Cable News Nets Aim to Keep Viewer Defection at a Crawl in Ads

Feb 10, 2008  •  Post A Comment

With news from the presidential campaign trail capturing the attention of viewers, cable news networks are hoping to hold that attention by running election returns during commercial breaks.
Fox News, CNN and MSNBC said they have been experimenting with running crawls under breaks for several years, and that they are doing it more consistently as they cover the presidential primaries.
Greg D’Alba, chief operating officer of CNN ad sales, said the network is running the crawls because viewers are hungry for the latest election results.
But advertisers also are demanding that networks try new things to keep their audiences tuned in during commercial breaks.
“Our advertisers are challenging us to do anything that’s innovative that will keep the viewer in break,” Mr. D’Alba said. “What we’re finding is that the type of information we’re providing, that’s very pertinent to the coverage we have on-air, is helping to keep a seamless connection with viewers.”
Crawls are hardly a new idea. CNBC has long run crawls during its commercial breaks, while TV Guide Channel says viewers pay attention to commercials it airs even when program listings are simultaneously scrolling on the screen.
With advertisers now buying ads based on commercial ratings, some entertainment networks are experimenting with putting program material in the breaks to keep viewers from using their remotes to zap or zip through the commercials.
Nicole Romanik, VP and associate media director at media agency Initiative, said the move by the news networks is a smart one.
“I think it’s going to keep viewers engaged throughout the commercial break and it’s going to hold the audience, especially with this type of election coverage, in which people are going to flip from Fox News to MSNBC to CNN to see who’s covering what,” Ms. Romanik said. “I think keeping the ticker there is really going to hold people’s interest. I know it held mine.”
Some clients may still need to be convinced that it’s in their interest to have something on the screen that could divert attention from their message.
“In order to get advertisers to like it, they’re going to have to come up with research very quickly,” Ms. Romanik said.
None of the networks said they’ve done research on recall of ads that share the screen with election returns.
“We’ll be doing all sorts of studies,” Mr. D’Alba said. “We’re going to be very aggressive in how we continue to measure the engagement of our consumers.”
His gut and the high ratings for election coverage tell him viewers are staying tuned and that it’s a good environment for advertisers.
“Election coverage is a pay-attention item, and that’s where I feel like there’s a lot of similarity between sporting events and something like the election trail,” Mr. D’Alba said. “There’s an emotional attachment to the content, and that’s when you see attention levels much higher. These crawls only enhance the viewer experience.”

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