Study: Vast Majority of Live TV Viewers Sit Through Commercials

Some 86% of viewers stick with a given channel during the commercials, according to a study from the Council for Research Excellence (CRE), which tracked the live TV-consumption habits of 376 adults across over 750,000 minutes.

The Video Consumer Mapping study showed little change in viewer behavior before, during and after commercials. The study showed that 11% of viewers change channels during the four minutes before the commercial break, and 13% change channels in the four minutes of programming after a commercial break.  Only 14% change channels during the actual commercial break.

“In short, when the commercials come on, people stay with the TV,” said RJC Advertising VP/Media Director and CRE Media Consumption & Engagement Committee Chairperson Laura Cowan. “They only go the kitchen if they’re hungry, and they don’t fight over the remote.”

The study only followed live television, so DVR viewing—and the practice of viewers fast-forwarding through ads—did not figure into the research.

The study was conducted throughout 2008 by Ball State University and Sequent Partners. More general findings were shared in March 2009; those included the fact that adults are exposed to, on average, 73 minutes of real-time TV commercials or promos each day.

Furthermore, TV advertising and promotions reach 85% of adults each day.

The finding may be seen as affirmation for those in television that ad messages don’t fall on deaf ears.

“Until now, we did not have any solid data on viewers' behavior during commercials,” said NBC Universal Senior VP of Strategic Insights & Innovation/MC&E Committee member Horst Stipp.  “This study fills that gap and shows that viewers pay more attention to commercials than most people assumed." 

The CRE describes itself as an independent research group that was created and is funded by The Nielsen Company. It’s “dedicated to advancing the knowledge and practice of audience measurement methodology,” according to its own description.

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.