What do you do in the ad breaks?

A recent survey, reported on Broadband TV news, suggests that it’s smartphones rather than PVRs that pose a threat to ad revenue. For many years, there have been some in the TV industry who are concerned that video recorders and especially PVRs might cause a decline in ad revenue, so this is quite interesting, if true – though the research looks like it’s based on a relatively small number of people.

Video recorders didn’t turn out to have a massive impact on ad revenue; fast forwarding was a bit imprecise, I guess, and there’s also been some research that apparently says people have a reasonable recall of some ads, even when they’re viewed at fast forward. Of course most VCRs didn’t go that fast, and so a 30 second ad would still take up ten seconds, and it’s quite easy to recall a logo if it’s on screen for a part of that.

Digital video recorders had the potential to change that, and plenty of people were worried. Back in 2006, when the specs were being drawn up for Freeview Playback (which became Freeview+), ITV wanted maximum fast forward speeds to be restricted, precisely because of that. They relented in the end, but people aren’t supposed to promote features as being useful for ad skipping. Elsewhere in the world, other broadcasters have tried to impose similar limitations.

With a fast forward speed of, say, 64x, then a 30 second ad spot is going to take up less than half a second, so it’ll be easy to miss (though, actually, controlling such a fast speed through a 3 or 4 minute break is hardly practical either; you’ll almost always overshoot).

The real problem broadcasters have with digital recorders is the jump, rather than a fast forward. Many boxes have a button that allows you to jump by a set number of seconds; the better ones allow you to configure exactly how many; with a 90 second jump, three quick presses of the button takes you through an ad break on many channels more or less perfectly, and there’s nothing to see at all while it happens – so with nothing on screen, there’s nothing to stick in the memory.

Getting smart

No wonder then that some people were worried about PVRs and their effect on ad revenue (though perhaps some broadcasters should have spent more time worrying about making decent quality programmes!).

But, this new research suggests that more and more people are using the ad breaks not to reach for the skip or fast forward button, but for their smart phone, catching up on Twitter, Facebook and other social networking tasks.

I’d love to know how many of the rest of you do that; is that really how you access these things alongside TV? Or do you check them during the programme, as well as the adverts? If you’re watching a show that has a lot of online participation – like the Eurovision Song Contest, or Question Time, then you probably don’t restrict your commenting and checking of comments to suitable breaks. What about ITV’s endless torrent of talent shows? Do you only comment in the breaks?

I suspect not, frankly – and as I said, the study was quite small, with only 48 participants. You can download it from here

What do I do?

For my part, how I interact with ads depends an awful lot on what I’m watching. I seldom watch anything live, especially on ITV or Channel 4, and the jump button is always there. That’s what most adverts make me do – reach for the jump button, press it three times, and carry on watching.

But, often I might have my eye on Twitter, or Facebook, and if something’s caught my eye, then I will check it properly in the ad break. But I don’t just let the ads run on in the background; I’ll pause the show I’m watching, give a news story my attention, read it all the way through, and then it’s back to those jump buttons, so the end result is much the same – no adverts viewed.

About the only time the ads do get to roll is when I decide I’m going to go and get a drink or a quick bite to eat; I leave them running and walk out of the room, then when I get back in, I jump over the rest of them.

So, what do you do when the adverts start?

3 thoughts on “What do you do in the ad breaks?

  1. Well, if I am watching live, which like you is a bit rare. But if I am required to sit through an ad break then I will often mute the TV (because of Go Compare!) and then play with my phone.

  2. I never watch anything live. I always skip the ads and I never play with my phone at the same time. Like you, if I go into the kitchen then I leave the ads running till I get back and skip the rest.

    If I want to watch something at broadcast time on ITV/4/5 then I make a point of waiting until 15 minutes into the program and then start it so I can skip the ads and catch up to live by the end of the last break. The only ads I see are the program sponsorship. The execs have reason to worry in my case!

  3. As a MythTV user I’m now well used to the commercial detection it has – see the splash screen at start of break, hit the skip button, see the splash screen at the end of the break. It seems to work best on shows imported from the US, and not at all on those “here’s a bunch of funny add clips” shows !
    There is a mode where it will auto-skip, but I don’t think it’s reliable enough on some of our channels for that.

    Of course, it’s not for nothing that some vendors are now buying the few second slots at the start and end of the breaks. Whatever method you use, these have the best chance of being seen by the viewer.

    As for “ITV’s endless torrent of talent shows”, well I’d heard they had something – some people gossip about them at work.

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