Viacom Networks' Commercial Clutter Dates Back Several Years

Publish date:
Updated on

When the Wall
Street Journal
reported on Aug. 27 that Viacom's Nickelodeon and Comedy
Central increased the amount of commercial time in their programming in the
first half of 2012 by 9%, a company spokesman said the increased loading of ads
is a "temporary situation" that Viacom will "address" as
ratings improve.

On Thursday, A
Viacom spokesperson reiterated the company's position from Monday. The spokesperson
also said that commercial loads for all networks are continuously changing, stating
that "commercial loads fluctuate quarter-to-quarter and even month-to-month.
The commercial load ebbs and flows on every network."

However, an analysis
data using Nielsen Adviews finds that the Viacom networks have been
consistently among the most commercial-cluttered on cable television. The
data show that among the 40 highest-rated cable networks and using
fourth-quarter data for each year, the top four most cluttered networks in 2009
to be Viacom's TV Land, Nick at Nite, Spike and Comedy Central. In 2010, the
five most cluttered included Viacom's Spike, TV Land, VH1, MTV and Nick at
Nite, in that order. While in 2011, the most cluttered were Spike, TV Land,
VH1, MTV and Comedy Central.

The total
non-programming time includes national and local commercials as well as network

Fourth Quarter

Network                              Non-Programming
Minutes Per Hour

TV Land                              19.7

Nick at Nite                         18.4

Spike                                   18.1

Comedy Central                17.8

Food Network*                   17.5

* Not a Viacom network

Fourth Quarter 2010

Network                             Non-Programming Minutes
Per Hour

Spike                                19.8

TV Land                             19.8

VH1                                   18.9

MTV                                   18.8

Nick at Nite                         18.4

Fourth Quarter

Non Programming Minutes Per Hour

Spike                           20.8

TV Land                      20.4

VH1                             19.0

MTV                             18.8

Comedy Central       18.3

Based on the
three-year track, it doesn't seem like this year's further increasing of
commercial minutes are a "temporary situation" since history shows
the Viacom networks have been among the most commercially cluttered for the
past several years.

Media buyers are
concerned that this could eventually impact C3 viewing patterns on which TV ad
rates are based. Buyers worry that as the Viacom networks get more cluttered,
viewers watching shows over three days will have more motivation to begin
fast-forwarding through commercials. While a large percentage of viewers are
doing that now, the situation for commercials on the Viacom networks could be
impacted to a far greater extent, buyers say.

The Viacom
spokesperson said the commercial levels on Nickelodeon have not increased, but
have increased on Nick at Nite.

Nickelodeon's daytime
kids programming is limited by federal guidelines as to how many commercials
can be run per hour, but its Nick at Nite block, which runs in primetime, is
considered family viewing and not subject to the federal limits.

The FCC's rules
limit the amount of commercial time in kids' TV programming to 10.5 minutes per
hour on weekends and 12 minutes per hour on weekdays. And those time limits
apply to programming aimed at kids 12 years or younger.

Another analysis of
Nielsen data on kids networks shows that at least part of
Nickelodeon's sizable ratings declines over the past year are due to
increases in ratings at its competitors and The Hub, the new kids network
which premiered in fourth quarter 2010. Looking at the past year --
September 2010 to August 2011 vs. September 2011 to August 2012 -- Nickelodeon
ratings have declined 25.3.%, Cartoon Network has increased by 4.3%, Disney
XD has increased by 4.9%, The Hub has increased by 28.6% and PBS Kids
Sprout has increased by 64.3%.

Nickelodeon's Nicktoons and Nick Jr. networks, aimed at younger kids, have
shown ratings growth over the past year. Nicktoons ratings are up 8.7%, while
Nick Jr.'s ratings are up 3.3%.

has been losing viewers in the 6-11 age range because of some new competition
and because its current shows have been around for a while," says one
media buyer, who did not want to speak for attribution. "The network
hasn't had a new hit in the last couple of years and as their viewers have aged
up, they haven't offered them new programming. So they are moving away from the
network to other choices. Kids today have so many choices and it's easy for
them to just switch to other networks."

Wednesday, one head rolled at Nickelodeon when Brown Johnson, longtime
animation president at the network, was fired. Johnson was responsible for
bringing past Nickelodeon hits like Dora the Explorer and Blue's
to the network, and was working on the relaunch of Teenage Mutant
Ninja Turtles.

At the same time, the
network announced that Russell Hicks, a 14-year veteran of the network, had
been named president of content development and production for the Nickelodeon
Group. He had been chief creative officer since 2008 and now assumes Johnson's
oversight of animation development as well as live-action programming. Other
changes include Margie Cohn being named president of content development and
Paula Kaplan being named executive VP of current series. Terri Weiss continues
as executive VP, Nickelodeon preschool development and production. Rich
Magallanes stays on as senior VP, animation and current series, and Keith
Dawkins continues as senior VP and general manager at Nick Jr., Nicktoons and

A New York Times
story wondered why Nickelodeon did not bring anyone in from the outside with
new ideas. The article by Brooks Barnes states: "The moves centralize
animation and live-action programming. What they don't do is add fresh blood to
Nickelodeon's management lineup -- something that some analysts say is crucial
to reviving the channel's creative spark and fending off competition from
Disney [which] recently introduced an entire preschool channel with shows like Doc
showing early promise."