winning the interruption game

August 11, 2009 ·

part of what aggrevates consumers about traditional media is not necessarily the interruption part, but the length of interruption. as i've said before, the interruption is a necessity and after so many decades of it being a reality in broadcast mediums, it's accepted by people when consuming free media. but that sheer length of interruption is very problematic to the experience and the business model.

we're now in an attention economy. that means as technology pervades, our attention becomes fragmented between the myriad of content and devices so the struggle for us marketers is in being visible to our consumers with so much clutter and choice in ample supply. and not just visibility, but relevance and engagement with the messages.

having 2 minute commercial breaks interspersed with programming is an antiquity from when programs were really appointments and had captive audiences. where you locked yourself in to that channel for the length of the program. in our attention defecit present tense, this is seldom the case. compound that by the vast plentitude of choice in media consumables.

a half hour of tv programming has 6-8 minutes of commercials which is a program to ad ratio of 20% to 25% adverts. doesn't seem like much on paper, but the experience of it is more telling. print media is just as bad with the ratio going upwards of 40% advertising. radio is just as guilty. there are still 2 minute breaks at a time, which if you think about it, is the opportunity to hear almost a whole other song.

we know that breaks are coming and it's going to be there for a period of time, so we have trained ourselves to zip, zap, switch, fast forward, flip the page, buy the dvd, on-demand it, leave altogether, whatever. it gives us time to tune out, opportunity to ignore.

i'd venture to say it isn't the displeasure or animosity toward advertising (entirely anyway - but that's a different post altogether about how our marketing messages need to evolve too), it is that we have better things to do than watch all those ads in a row. so we turn to places and means that truncates the length of commercial breaks.

online video is succeeding and growing with singular commercial breaks (mid-roll) of :15 seconds or so in between program segments. they could probably double that with little more dissonance. as an interruptive model, it puts the value back to the consumers in being limitedly commercial heavy as opposed to value for the advertisers in being just an advertising vehicle.

we're also stuck in these handy half hour or hour timeslots that are a vestige of appointment viewing when you had to remember the time and date of your show or you missed it. also to made it easy for programmers to make a schedule that had variety, but not excessive demands. not the case anymore. not with the volumionous amount of content available online or the preponderance of specialty channels on tv and satellite radio. many a show gets watered down because they have to make it fit within the confides of either a half or full hour.

where i'm going with this is to offer a model that's a radical shift to the existing broadcast model, but closer to an online model that is proving successful.

  1. program length - a program is a program, whatever length it needs to be. better to be shorter (think robot chicken) but if it's entertaining, quality, engaging programming, than length doesn't matter. the problem is we have 2 lengths now and those don't fit for everything.
  2. commercial breaks - keep it to :30 seconds total time each break. any more and you lose your audience.
  3. on demand - expand the offerings but actually monetize it
  4. work with providers - the cable companies control the box with which all your content goes through. without you the broadcasters, they have nothing. use that leverage to expand the on-demand offerings, subsidize better delivery technology, improve timeshifting to allow for more viewing opportunities and create custom experiences that are digital, interactive and complimentary to the shows.
  5. in program opportunities - open yourself to new opportunities of brand integration from the online world: animated overlays, skins, product integration, banners, etc. but be careful in implementing and overusing. it's a fine line. there's lots of ways to do it right, but more ways to do it worng.
part of the issue is the dearth of quality programming that consumers would be willing to sit through commercials. networks haven't embraced a model of diverse interests and low cost production. nor have they accepted the new way of lower-fi production that still retains high values and doesn't have the encumbering celebrities.

as broadcasters figure out their new business models in the era of the internet, taking into account how commercial interruption is done should be a big consideration.




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