Nets Tweak Ad Breaks

NEW YORK As advertisers and agencies move towards using commercial ratings in buying spots, the TV industry is changing how it positions those commercials to engage the audience leading in and out of ad breaks in prime-time programs.

According to a study by TNS Media Intelligence to be released Wednesday at the American Association of Advertising Agencies annual media conference, a growing proportion of one-hour programs are now formatted to push back the first ad break. In addition, a significant proportion of one-hour telecasts are positioning the last ad break to leave more time for a meaningful post-break scene to conclude the episode and lead into the next show.

TNS’ analysis was based on an examination of national commercials that aired during scripted prime-time programs on the top four broadcast networks for three periods: Oct. 3 to Nov. 27, 2005; March 6 to May 27, 2006; and Oct. 2 to Nov. 26, 2006.

Most of the commercial format changes occurred in one-hour shows, compared to half-hour programs, which have less flexibility. What hasn’t changed is the number of breaks: 95 percent of one-hour programs have five ad breaks and more than 95 percent of half-hour shows have three ad breaks.

Among one-hour programs, 36 percent start the first commercial break eight or more minutes after the start of the program, compared to 28 percent a year ago. “A longer scene can potentially deliver a larger and more engaged audience to the initial commercial pod,” noted Jon Swallen, svp, research, TNS.

Later airings of the first commercial pod are more likely to be used for veteran shows that have been around for several seasons, which may be due to legacy arrangements between networks and show producers, Swallen reasoned. “ABC is furthest along the adoption curve with CBS at the opposite end,” he said.

The last ad break is also airing sooner, a practice that is more likely to be employed for shows that lead into late local news. For example, 39 percent of 10 p.m. programs aired the last break less than 7 minutes or more before the end of the program, compared to 28 percent a year ago.

As a result of moving the first and last ad breaks inward, the time between commercials is compressed into a narrower portion of the program. If the first and last commercial pods are moved further away from the start and end of the show, then the time between the internal commercial pods is reduced by about three minutes. The downside of the strategy is that “viewers experience a staccato cycle of three-minute ad breaks and five- to seven-minute program segments, which may lead to perceptions of increased clutter and impact effectiveness,” Swallen said.