The current (December 8 – 14) issue of TV Guide reports that the Fox television network is experimenting with a new advertising model — running fewer ads per show. That’s right, less advertising. The network is running only about 5 minutes of advertising — roughly half the normal amount — on shows like Fringe and Joss Whedon’s forthcoming Dollhouse.
By having ad breaks of only 60 or 90 seconds, Fox hopes viewers will sit through the ads rather than switching channels or leaving the room (or, if previously recorded, zapping past them). Key to this strategy is letting viewers know the duration of each ad break by saying, for example, “Fringe will return in 90 seconds.”
This approach echoes that of online media sites like Hulu which, from the outset, have included limited commercial interruptions embedded in its movies and television programs. When watching Hulu, a joint venture of NBC Universal and News Corp’s Fox, the viewer is not only informed of the length of the ad spot, but sees a countdown showing how much time remains until the feature resumes.
Of course, Hulu’s sparse advertising may have been born of necessity more than strategy. As a Wired blog post observed a few months ago, Hulu’s content appears to have expanded faster than its advertising base, leaving many programs with public service announcements or “house ads” for the networks that provide the programming.
And yet, Hulu appears to be doing well overall. One recent report suggests that Hulu may be on track to catch up with Google’s YouTube in ad revenue by next year.
TV Guide reports that Fox also believes its television experiment is working, stating that advertisers like the exclusivity of the less crowded environment, and the network is able to charge a premium of 35 to 40 percent over its regular ad rate because of the prominence of the limited ads.
Rather than just slowly sapping viewers away from television, web sites like Hulu may be discovering new ways to attract and retain viewers that the television networks can emulate to their benefit as well.