Study: Americans Too Lazy to Change Channel or Leave Room When TV Ads Roll

By Matt Van Hoven 

Prepare for conventional wisdom to be refuted. The Council for Research Excellence (CRE) sponsored a Video Consumer Mapping (VCM) study which found that people who watch live TV tend not to leave the room or change the channel when a commercial comes on. Keep in mind &#151 the CRE is “a diverse group of senior research professionals from throughout the media and advertising industries dedicated to advancing the knowledge and practice of audience measurement methodology.” So you know, they might have had an interest in proving this true.

The study was performed throughout 2008 by Ball State and Sequent Partners and cost $3.5 million. The initial findings were released about a year ago but the full report is just making its way out. More details/stats after the jump.


Everything from here down is copied directly from the study.

TV advertising and program promotions reach 85% of adults daily; viewers typically see 26 advertising or promotional breaks daily, at an average length of 2 minutes and 46 seconds per break.

The frequency of channel-changing and /or changing rooms is very similar in the few minutes before a commercial break, during the commercial break and in the few minutes after the commercial break:

According to the study, 11% of viewers change channels during the four minutes of TV programming before the commercial break; only 14% change channels during commercials; and 13% change channels in the four-minute period after programming returns. In other words, 86% of viewers remain with live TV during commercials &#151 a finding consistent with previously disclosed Nielsen data;

A similar pattern emerges with room changes: 19% change rooms in the four minutes before a commercial break; 20% during; and 21% in the four minutes after programming returns.

Similarly, viewers do not increase or adjust their “multi-tasking” habits during commercial breaks:

Fully 55% of viewers were found to be engaged solely with media &#151 led largely by live TV viewing &#151 during the two minutes of TV programming prior to commercial breaks, with the number actually growing to 56% following onset of a commercial;

Multi-tasking was found to accompany about 45% of all media use. Concurrent activities are led by “care of another,” at 12% in the two minutes prior to and during commercial breaks; and “meal preparation,” at 8% in both cases. Some of these activities do not necessarily preclude simultaneous attention being paid to media.

“Do viewers actually pay attention during commercial breaks?” asked Laura Cowan, vice president and media director of RJC Advertising and chairperson of the CRE’s Media Consumption & Engagement (MC&E) Committee. “For years, media professionals have been wrestling with this question &#151 and they’ve been debating the merits of audience data whether they are based on written diaries or on electronic measurement devices that require manual user interaction. This new data, the result of actually ’embedding’ observers with a statistically significant number of TV viewers, is a major development in terms of learning what people watch and how they watch it.”

“At a time when the industry is studying ad exposure, and audience retention during ad breaks down to the second-by-second level using set-top-box information, this unique new source of insight is refreshing,” noted Mike Pardee, senior vice president, research, for Scripps Networks and member of the MC&E Committee.

“Until now, we did not have any solid data on viewers’ behavior during commercials,” added Horst Stipp, senior vice president, strategic insights & innovation, for NBC Universal and also a member of the MC&E Committee. “This study fills that gap and shows that viewers pay more attention to commercials than most people assumed.”

“In short,” Ms. Cowan continued, “when the commercials come on, people stay with the TV; they only go the kitchen if they’re hungry, and they don’t fight over the remote.”

For more data from the study