With Too Many Ads, TV Land Subtracts Content

In network’s new math, length of episodes grows to accommodate spots

Viacom has come under fire lately
for cluttering some of its channels
with extra commercials in order to
make up for advertising revenue shortfalls
caused by lower ratings.

But one little-noticed effect of squeezing in
more ads is that networks such as TV Land
and Nick at Nite are actually running fewer episodes
of series in many dayparts, sometimes
running only five episodes of sitcoms like King
of Queens
and George Lopez in a three-hour
block rather than the six 30-minute episodes
that normally fill a programming grid.

On Monday, Oct. 9 from 11 p.m.-2 a.m. ET,
TV Land ran four episodes of King of Queens and
one episode of That ‘70s Show. Each one clocked
in at 36 minutes in length. The first episode of
King of Queens had three commercial breaks; the
first break ran nearly 6 minutes with 15 different
commercials, starting with a promo for TV
Land’s Happily Divorced. The next break was
about five and a half minutes, starting off with
a bumper announcing that “King of Queens is
brought to you by Allstate.” Spots for 12 other
advertisers ran in the break. The last break was
5 minutes long, with 15 spots.

In all, the show had more than 16 minutes’
worth of commercials during a 36-minute program.
And the spots crammed into those shows
promote brands belonging to some of the industry’s
most powerful and sophisticated marketers,
including Procter & Gamble, Johnson &
Johnson, SC Johnson, Mars, Kellogg, Conagra,
GlaxoSmithKline, L’Oreal, Nestle, Macy’s, Choice
Hotels and Radio Shack. There was even a spot
for Dish Network’s Hopper DVR somewhere in
the middle of one of the breaks.

“It’s ridiculous. They’ve taken it to new
heights,” one media buyer who asked to remain
nameless said of the commercial clutter
on some of Viacom’s networks. “They’ve been
doing this for a while. It’s not a short-term fix.
They admit they’re doing it. But the industry
doesn’t seem to be bothered by it.”

In a statement, a TV Land representative said:
“We are constantly managing our inventory, balancing
the needs of advertisers and our viewers.”

During late fringe, 30-second spots on TV
Land cost about $2,400, according to Larry
Fried, VP for sales at SQAD, a research company.
Sqad collects invoices from major advertisers
representing about 38% of all spending on cable
to produce its NetCosts product.

But Fried noted that an increasing number
of spots on TVLand have been no-charge units,
which means TVLand’s revenue was down in
the 2011-12 season from the 2010-11 season.
Fried said TVLand apparently under-delivered
and that it gave advertisers significantly more
make-goods during the third quarter of 2012
compared to the previous year in several dayparts,
including late fringe. “I don’t think there’s
so much demand that they would have to
squeeze that many commercials in,” Fried said.

In Q3, TV Land’s viewership among adults
18-49 was down 12% in primetime, when most
networks generate the bulk of their ad revenue.
Viewership was up 2% for total day.

Late fringe isn’t the only daypart where TV
Land shows are overgrown with commercials.

On Oct. 4 at 4 p.m., the network scheduled
an episode of Bonanza set to end at 5:11;
that was set to be followed by another episode
of Bonanza ending at 6:22. An episode
of M*A*S*H concluded the three-hour block
on the scheduling grid.

And on Oct. 5, TV Land aired Andy Griffith
from noon till 12:38, followed by two episodes
of Gunsmoke, concluding at 3 p.m.

Something similar happened on Nick at Nite
on Monday, Oct. 8. The network began, at 11
p.m., four episodes of Friends, four episodes of
George Lopez, two My Wife and Kids shows and
two Yes Dear episodes, running to 5:30 a.m.,
meaning that a total of 12 originally created halfhour
shows—plus a load of commercials—filled
6½ hours of the network’s schedule.

Nick at Nite’s viewership was down 46%
in primetime during the third quarter in the
18-49 demo and was down 28% over the total
broadcast day.

The commercial load ought to be taken into
account, said the media buyer. “Viacom offers
a below-market CPM increase to get volume,”
the buyer said. “Buyers think they got a great
deal at MTV’s rate of change, which is below
what the market is getting. But I don’t know
who can sit through those breaks. Who’s really
seeing our commercials?”

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