Following two years of research, a team at London Business School question the fundamental assumption upon which many audience measurement systems are based: that if people watch the programmes, they also watch the ads.
Although the study is exploratory - based on a sample of eight households who had cameras hidden in their living rooms - it does throw up some interesting - and alarming - consumer behaviour.
In hundreds of examples, viewers display a change in posture and then make a choice: what will I do in this break? This varied from reading, tasking, flicking and watching.
In many cases, it is an opportunity for social interaction with others in the room. The study dubs this the 'Friend's Effect' and the more people in the room, the less the ads are watched. This is alarming news for advertisers who pay top dollar for slots which guarantee a large audience.
The Superbowl is an obvious example, with the advertisers featured in this issue paying up to $2.2m a pop, while in the UK ad breaks were going for £100,000 during the hotly-debated Michael Jackson documentary.
Other surprises include the effect of time of day. Traditionally, the most valued audience is early and mid-evening but the 'Late Night Curve' suggests people become tired and less active, and watch advertising more attentively.
The complete research is being unveiled next month but it only serves to emphasise the need for agencies to think more creatively, not only about the message, but how to deliver it.