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Ad Loads Dropped Slightly During 1Q

Amid all the big talk by TV executives about improving viewer experience by reducing commercial loads in programming, there was only a 1% drop in ad loads during the first quarter, according to figures from Todd Juenger, analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein.

As ratings have fallen, making raising ad revenue more difficult, many networks have stuffed their shows with extra ad inventory. Now, companies including 21st Century Fox, Time Warner and Viacom are talking about reducing the number of commercials they air in order to get more people to tune in and to increase the effectiveness of the ads that do appear.

The 1% first quarter decline didn’t seem like much progress to Juenger.

“That's moving in the right direction, but baby-steps, especially given all the tough talk from network executives about reigning in ad loads,” he said in a report Thursday morning.

“Habitual worst offender Viacom did decrease ad loads by -3% in primetime on their non-kids networks,” Juenger said. “However, Viacom added (much) more ad load on the kids side, including +8% at Nickelodeon. Hello, ad agencies (and parents), are you paying attention here? Surely someday soon the ad agencies (or MVPDs) will stop accepting this and there will be consequences.”

He added that “viewers who are old enough to operate a remote control have already noticed, and are not-surprisingly fleeing to more tolerable viewing environments, especially SVOD.”

Ad loads were up 8% on 21st Century Fox’s FX and National Geographic, but those networks still have among the lowest ad loads.

AMC Networks posted a 2% increase, which includes a 6% increase in promos for the growing amount of original programming it airs.

Ads on Disney’s Freeform were down 33% as the network rebranded from ABC Family.

A+E’s networks were down 6% in ad load. In the fourth quarter, A&E had the highest ad load of any network.

During the quarter, Juenger says that C3 ratings fell 7% in primetime. Non-kids cable viewing fell 3%, broadcast was down 13% and kids were down 1%.

The cable networks for adults were helped by political coverage of the presidential elections, with CNN, Fox News and MSNBC up an average of 75%.

Scripps Networks were up 4% in ratings, benefitting from a big gain at HGTV.

Viacom was flat, with VH1 and MTV posting gains.

AMC was down 11% because of declines on The Walking Dead and Better Call Saul, and A+E was down 10% as History posted another big drop.

Among the broadcasters, CBS was up because of the Super Bowl (NBC, which had the game a year ago, posted a big decline). Fox was down 23% because it didn’t have Empire in the quarter, and ABC was down 16%.

(Photo via Ervins Strauhmanis's FlickrImage taken on Sept. 19, 2014 and used per Creative Commons 2.0 license. The photo was cropped to fit 3x4 aspect ratio.)