TV Networks Pushing Fewer Spots in Shows

With the advertising market improving some media companies are saying they are trying to reduce the number of commercials they pack into shows.

A Viacom spokesperson this week confirmed that it is reducing its ad load during primetime. The company has been notorious for stuffing some of its shows with so many ads that it could fit only five half-hour shows into a three-hour programming block.

The move comes as ratings are eroding partly because of competition with streaming services, many of which are either commercial free or have greatly reduced commercial loads.

Turner Broadcasting recently announced plans to cut commercial loads on its truTV network next year. Discovery said that with ratings up, it was running fewer commercials on some of its networks. And Fox has been running its hit Empire with fewer commercial interruptions for two seasons.

Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman talked about cutting ad loads during an investor conference in September. Viacom has been working on non-Nielsen metrics to sell advertising as more of its younger viewers watch on non-traditional platforms. The company has introduced products like Viacom Vantage, which is designed to capture viewer engagement on digital, mobile and social platforms, and Dauman said Vantage was a major driver of its upfront sales and that those initiatives would be taking effect during the new broadcast season.

“With those kicking in we’ll be in position—we’ve been talking to a lot of advertisers about it, which they like—to reduce ad load in primetime across our networks, which will improve the consumer experience and drive pricing,” Dauman said.

Viacom declined to be more specific about which networks and shows have lower ad loads, or how that’s affecting revenue. Dauman might address the issue during Viacom’s earnings report Thursday.

According to stats compiled by analyst Todd Juenger of Sanford C. Bernstein, the number of commercial hours in Viacom’s non-kid primetime programming (not including sports and news) rose 1% from a year ago. Viacom reduced the amount of promotion material it runs, so its total commercial and promo hours were down 1% for the quarter. Other media companies, including A+E Networks, Time Warner, 21st Century Fox and the Walt Disney Co. increased commercial hours by more than 2% during the quarter.

On Time Warner’s earnings call, CEO Jeff Bewkes stressed the importance of improving the consumer experience, and said its networks were looking for opportunities to reduce ad load, as with truTV.

“Over time, we think a better viewing experience will help drive higher viewership and enhance the value proposition of our networks,” Bewkes said. “When we think about the ad clutter that we have on our networks, I'm comfortable with where we are for the most part, but I think tru is going to be a very, very interesting experiment to see whether it actually will make a difference with respect to the viewing experience,” added John Martin, CEO of Turner. “And we don't anticipate it will have really any revenue impact with respect to that network.”

On Discovery’s earnings call, CFO Andy Warren said that because ad revenues were up, “we even actually cut back a little bit of inventory to drive a better viewer experience, which showed up in our ratings.”

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.