You Endure More Commercials When Watching Cable Networks

Compared to broadcast

Is the viewer in the bathroom during your prime-time ad? If that ad is on CMT, there’s a good chance he is. If it runs on Bravo, she’ll be more likely to stay put.

Adweek has acquired a research report from a Nielsen subscriber examining 20 cable channels’ commercial loads in the first quarter of this year. The results: Some nets don’t even fill 40 minutes of programming time per hour.

Nielsen’s most recent public “clutter” report, in 2006, pegged the average time for ads, PSAs and promos on cable at 15 minutes, one second. No network tracked in Q1 met that average even though many have pledged to cut down on clutter. Nielsen told Adweek that the average clutter time today is 13:32 on broadcast; 16:59 on cable (so the program time averages barely 43 minutes).

“[Ad time] gradually creeps upward, and we’re not watching, especially with DVRs in 48, 50 percent of the country,” said Brad Adgate, senior vp, research at Horizon Media (no one quoted here was the source of the report). “If you’re watching this on playback, you can certainly avoid the ads, and you can watch a one-hour show in 45 minutes.”

CMT and Spike were the worst offenders, with programming hours that clocked in at 38:41 and 39:52, respectively. That leaves enough room left over for a full episode of FX’s Archer. CMT, Spike and VH1 all averaged 10 commercials per pod.

As nets know they can’t simply cram 30 ads into a break, the number of pods seems excessive enough to make even the staunchest cable viewer consider Netflix. Nets run as many as six pods of 10 ads each, the vast majority national ad time. A notable exception: MTV, with four of 19-plus minutes of commercial time devoted to promos. (Viacom declined to comment.)

The Viacom networks came in with more ads per pod, more pods per hour and a shorter hour overall than their counterparts. On the less crowded end of the spectrum was NBCUniversal, and most consistent was Discovery. The flagship net, Animal Planet, OWN and TLC all came in at around 42 minutes. TBS’ programming hour, meanwhile, averaged 41:31.

Other nets fell somewhere in the middle. USA had 42:28 of program time (five pods, nine ads each). There also wasn’t much fat. Nearly 13 minutes an hour was pure national ad time, leaving less than five minutes for promos, locals and direct response.

No network in the report had fewer than seven ads per pod.

Brian Wieser of Pivotal Research said the data spoke to the power of the medium—especially the power to hold advertisers over a barrel: “From an advertiser perspective, it’s remarkable that it still works. No advertiser of note will depart the medium for risk of lost market share.” Wieser also said clutter data suggested that there’s more available inventory (and the ability to make even more) than networks let on.

Brian Hughes, audience analysis practice lead at Magna Global, said he tracked clutter carefully. “We definitely know it has an impact on attentiveness,” he said.

Recommended articles