TBS Superstation's experiment to run ads and programming at the same time to keep viewers glued to the TV yielded a positive enough viewer response to make executives optimistic about using it again.
On Oct. 8, portions of the UAW-GM Quality 500 NASCAR race went to a picture-in-picture format with the race featured in a small frame while certain ads ran on the larger portion with full audio and video. It is believed to be the first time such a format has been offered to advertisers.
TBS has not finished compiling research results on the event, but executives at the cable station said they would try the so-called "No Brakes Coverage" again where advertising and programming share the screen.
Ninety-one percent of 84,000 viewers surveyed by NASCAR.com said they liked the new format.
TBS was getting "an inordinate number of complaints about commercial interruption" during motor-racing events, said Keith Cutler, svp of sales and marketing at Turner Sports, a division of Turner Broadcasting, which owns TBS. "So we decided to try continuous, live race action within the commercial."
According to Nielsen Media Research, the 4 1/2-hour afternoon broadcast got a 3.4 household rating, equivalent to 2.7 million homes.
"The ability to have the audience remain engaged in the ads while they're watching an event was intriguing to us," said Scott Williamson, a representative for Coca-Cola North America, an event sponsor that also advertised in the format.
Turner executives first hatched the idea in July, Cutler said, but it was offered to NASCAR advertisers in September when they had already bought media time.
"The jury is still out," said Dick Hammill, a representative for The Home Depot, which also opted for the format. "In sports like car racing and soccer, where there are not natural breaks in the action, this format is attractive. We'd try it again."
Cutler said TBS research will measure whether viewers approved of watching part of the race in a picture-in-picture screen and their level of ad recall.
Fred Sattler, executive media director of advertising at Doner in Southfield, Mich., said "full attention is compromised" in the format.
His clients did not advertise on the program, but he said that even if the format proves effective, stations that use it should not raise their media rates.
"If anything, they should offer a discount," Sattler said. "You're competing for attention on a fractional screen."
Cutler said he did not know if or how the format would affect media rates.
Two days after the broadcast, Turner Sports made known its acquisition of NASCAR's Internet rights. It will become the exclusive producer of the official NASCAR Web site, relaunching NASCAR.com on Jan. 1, 2001. NASCAR fans are among the most loyal, not only to the sport, but to its sponsors, Cutler said. "We knew we had to reinvent how we broadcast this sport," he noted.
He added that motor racing and soccer are perhaps the only sports in which such an ad format could work. Traditional commercial breaks can interrupt crucial moments in the two sports' continuous live action, which, unlike football, basketball and baseball, has no natural breaks.
Last week, ABC used a lone sponsor, Johnson & Johnson, for an uninterrupted telecast of its new medical drama, Gideon's Crossing. It was the first time a broadcast network aired a show without commercial interruption, ABC said.