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?”

E-mail comments to jlafayette@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @jlafayette