I wrote a feature a couple of weeks ago about a Variety story, regarding how people using DVRs to skip commercials has been totally freaking out the broadcast networks who are being crunched by advertisers. I think the entire situation has been manufactured by overly optimistic networks and blatantly greedy advertisers -- essentially meaning it's entirely their fault, and that they are imagining it all.
At that point, I thought things were coming to a head and would result in an uneasy but beneficial compromise between the networks and advertisers, but it appears that I under estimated the situation.
Before I get into that, I'll try to explain this as quickly as possible: advertisers do not want to pay for their own commercials that air on TV when those programs are recorded by DVRs and watched at a later time. Networks are hurting badly because some of the more popular shows are losing a significant chunk of their audience to DVR time-shifting.
Both groups have been trying to figure out how to stop people from skipping commercials, an invasion most people have no interest in tolerating. Gimmicks with commercials are starting to appear, and AP writer David Bauder is now calling the situation "desperate" for the networks.
"We all need to become more creative in how we incorporate sponsors into a program," said Ed Swindler, executive vice president for NBC Universal ad sales. "No one on the creative side or the business side wants to make commercials intrusive, but we do need to commercialize efficiently so viewers can afford to get free television."
I actually feel bad for the networks, because what they're talking about (subtly) is pushing advertising directly into the shows themselves. Rather than showing a couple of main characters in a half-hour sitcom eating pizza from a pan, or a plain unmarked box, Domino's Pizza might walk in with a $10,000 check, and that box suddenly says Domino's on it, and shot in a way where TV viewers can clearly see the markings.
It's called product integration, and it's making the creative minds behind the shows livid. There is zero chance the networks are going to push more product placements and endorsements into the shows themselves without an even bigger fight than the one they are having with the advertisers right now.
TNT aired a five-episode mini-drama about a young woman, with viewers directed to a Web site — plastered with the sponsoring credit card company's ads — for the finale. Fox created an animated taxi driver, Oleg, who would appear during breaks talking to his passengers. Next month Court TV offers a mystery about an unsolved murder with clues dropped in commercial breaks, online and via text messages; the game's winner gets $25,000. Fans of NBC's "Scrubs" were asked trivia questions at the beginning of a commercial break, the answer appearing in between ads.
Seinfeld will appear in several quick comedy skits for NBC next fall that also promote his upcoming movie.
That's creative, but it's not going to help in the least. People who have DVRs aren't going to see the changes in commercials because they're skipping them. They'll be totally oblivious to them, as will I. Often times, I'll forgo seeing a program live just so that I can use my DVR to skip the commercials.
Unlike with some people I suppose, commercials have zero influence on my life. I've never bought nor wanted to buy any product because of a commercial - ever. Even if it was physically impossible for me to skip a commercial, I'd still mute the TV, get up to take a leak or get something to snack on.
Nothing they do will change my habits, which means as a viewer, I'm worthless to the networks and the advertisers -- and that's kind of my point. People with DVRs that skip commercials are not potential converts for new ideas, they are dead to networks and advertisers. Period.
The networks need to wake up and realize that the value of their audience is far less than they think it is.
What needs to happen is that the networks and studios need to innovate an entirely new revenue model that is not based entirely on ads. Now that people have experienced the ability to skip commercials, they are simply not giving it up.