How Many Ads Is Too Many?

By The Cog Blog Archives
Cover image for  article: How Many Ads Is Too Many?

It has been reported that both ITV and Channel 4 have been arguing for the maximum number of ads per hour limit to be lifted. Historically, the major UK broadcasters have operated at seven minutes per hour, rising to eight in primetime. Smaller broadcasters have been known to run to nine minutes, which is still way below the EU maximum of 20 percent, or 12 minutes per hour. In the United States, the figure varies by network but averages around the 12-minute mark.

The IPA, in the person of Wavemaker's Tom George, chair of the association's Media Futures Group, has argued persuasively that the current ITV/C4 limit should not be extended.

Increasing the minutage is an easy, but misguided approach by our broadcasters. Even assuming that there is latent, unmet demand for TV airtime beyond a few blockbuster shows (which may or may not be the case), the point is that what you gain in short-term revenue you lose in the effectiveness of your medium. Consider: Just over a year ago, Fox in the U.S. discussed reducing its ad load to two minutes per hour by 2020, a move they positioned as being about delivering a superior experience to their viewers.

It's a little odd that the medium that argues most cogently for advertising effectiveness being a long-term game should themselves be looking so short term.

From the consumer standpoint, more ads are not necessarily seen as a good thing.

Over the last three years, Kantar Media has produced original research into the biggest issues facing the media end of the communications industry. The research involves a mix of quantitative consumer work, and qualitative work designed to unearth the issues industry leaders across five large ad markets (USA, China, Brazil, UK, France) are facing.

One issue explored is the balance between subscriptions and ad-funded models.

On the one extreme we have the success of Netflix, with zero ads and, thus, a business model reliant on subscriptions; at the other are the large traditional broadcasters (such as ITV) that rely primarily on ads to fund their service (and, yes, I know I'm simplifying and revenue from program sales also exists).  

Kantar Media's 2019 Dimension study contains a wealth of insight into why consumers sign up for subscription services (it's all about content, as opposed to ad avoidance); what they like and dislike about advertising (excessive frequency, the bane of so many online campaigns, features heavily in the list of dislikes); and the numbers choosing to adblock (pretty consistent over the three years at 21 percent).

Setting aside the quantitative insights, one interesting quote stands out, from a U.S.-based research and broadcasting consultant, Howard Shimmel (ex-Nielsen and Turner Broadcasting) of Janus Strategy and Insights.

Howard was speculating on what would happen should Netflix decide at some point to accept ads — something that is increasingly being seen as a matter of when, not if: "One thing Netflix won't do is to make the same mistakes as linear TV in cluttering up their experience. There are some networks that make you watch one minute of non-program time for every two minutes of content. If Netflix creates an ad model, it will be far more tailored to consumers."

Or, as Rhiannon Murphy from the7stars put it from the advertisers' point-of-view: "Advertisers are not crying out for more ads, but for the ability to reach the audience they used to get."

Consumer experiences are important. Upset the delicate balance between the number of ads and the on-screen look to viewers and you're on a very short road with no turning back.

Broadcasters need to take into account the views of both the advertisers that are their paying customers and consumers before rushing after an illusionary pot of gold.

Disclosure: BJ&A has consulted with Kantar Media on the Dimension study mentioned here

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