GLOBAL BRIEF: NBC gambles with ad breaks - Harriet Green asks whether fewer but longer ad breaks would benefit the channel

NBC is thinking the unthinkable. According to US sources, the network behind Seinfeld and ER is thinking of airing fewer - but longer - commercial breaks in a bid to retain viewers.

NBC is thinking the unthinkable. According to US sources, the

network behind Seinfeld and ER is thinking of airing fewer - but longer

- commercial breaks in a bid to retain viewers.



The network feels that flow and ratings might be improved if it

restructured some programming to contain fewer ad breaks - so long as

those remaining were significantly longer. That’s a controversial view,

which bucks conventional wisdom: broadcasters on both sides of the pond

have long held that extended breaks reduce the efficacy of the

individual ads, and can put viewers off.



Take Richard Eyre, the chief executive of ITV. After last month’s TV 98

conference in Barcelona - at which advertisers pressed ITV to join a

campaign for more minutage on terrestrial TV - Eyre argued that

increasing advertising airtime to nine minutes an hour would lead to

clutter. And reduced editorial, he added, would mean reduced audience

levels.



But minutage in the US - which is self-regulated - does look set to

increase.



Audience figures have fallen across the major broadcast networks, but

most have added significant commercial time. In the first ten weeks of

the current TV season, according to SFM Media Corp, ABC was up 11.8 per

cent in prime-time commercial volume, NBC was up 6.1 per cent and CBS

4.8 per cent year on year. Only Fox was down.



Paul Woolmington, Young & Rubicam’s president of media operations

worldwide, says: ’Longer ad breaks could hamper interest in advertising.

Being one of two ads in a short break is more interesting than being one

of ten.’



Woolmington suspects NBC is only toying with the idea. ’It’s a healthy

dialogue,’ he says. ’US networks are very good at promoting what’s to

come, leaving the viewer with cliffhangers.’ It seems agencies are yet

to be convinced that NBC’s ’less is more’ solution can keep advertisers

happy.



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