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Beware the “Commercial Cliff”

The spot load on some radio stations continues to swell.  But how much is too much?  At what point will audiences and advertisers decide to take their listening and their business, respectively, elsewhere?

A cautionary tale is as close as the nearest cable box.

Viacom has come under fire lately for cluttering some of its channels with extra commercials in order to make up for advertising revenue shortfalls caused by lower ratings. But one little-noticed effect of squeezing in more ads is that networks such as TV Land and Nick at Nite are actually running fewer episodes of series in many dayparts, sometimes running only five episodes of sitcoms like King of Queens and George Lopez in a three-hour block rather than the six 30-minute episodes that normally fill a programming grid.

On one Monday, each episode clocked in at 36 minutes.  Breaks ran for five to six minutes with up to 15 spots each, including promos.  In all, the shows had more than 16 minutes of commercials during each 36 minute period.

Meanwhile, Nick at Nite’s viewership was down 46% in primetime during the third quarter in the 18-49 demo and was down 28% over the total broadcast day.

So will more spots contribute to lower ratings or will lower ratings lead to more spots?  The answer, of course, is “yes.” And the impact is just as ugly either way for both advertisers and viewers.


“It’s ridiculous. They’ve taken it to new heights,” one media buyer who asked to remain nameless said of the commercial clutter on some of Viacom’s networks. “They’ve been doing this for a while. It’s not a short-term fix. They admit they’re doing it. But the industry doesn’t seem to be bothered by it.”

Really?  The industry doesn’t seem to be bothered by it?  Maybe that was true before this particular article ran, but after?  Do America’s largest advertisers relish being called “fools” in their own industry trades?

And what does it say about Viacom’s respect for its audiences?

As radio alternatives proliferate – many of which have many fewer interruptions than the average broadcast station, we are reminded of what we inherently know: The tolerance for interruptions to broadcast content is not infinite for our audiences.  The tolerance for ad placement amidst rising clutter is not infinite for our clients.

Don’t take my word for it.  Just ask Viacom.

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