Wednesday, February 04, 2009

>>Ad Men: TV Ad Observations in the TIVO/DVR Era

Here are a few of my thoughts about commercialization in the era of live TV recording.

While my friends have had TIVO for a few years now, and I've toyed with the system now and again, I've only had access to DVR at my own residence for about eight months. The first time I paid any attention to the new way commercials seek the attention of viewers trying to fast-forward through them was watching Mad Men. Mad Men was the first show I recorded an entire season of in one go when I first had DVR. AMC's Mad Men is a show about a 1960s ad agency. It not only cleverly integrates their real-life sponsors as advertising clients within the show, but also features commercials by these sponsors during commercial breaks, and interrupts commercial breaks with little clips revealing interesting information about the clients. For example, Heineken commercials played during an episode in which the Mad Men won a Heineken campaign in the show, and in the midst of commercials, a little Mad Men-theme screen pops up telling you that Heineken was "the first imported beer in America after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933." Now that's smart, and intriguing, too. I always used to slow-forward through Mad Men commercial breaks so that I could catch the fun facts. This is a fantastic strategy to entice viewers to slow down and watch some commercials. (Here's an interesting interview with Mad Men's creator, Matthew Weiner, which touches on this strategy. And just for kicks, below is the Simpson's Mad Men spoof. If you don't watch this show you should!)

Another technique I've observed recently is having network stars feature in commercials that play during their own show's time slot. For instance, I was watching House, and the actor who plays Dr. Kutner (Kal Penn) was featured in a commercial. I was quick-forwarding through the ads, but I caught his face and rewound, thinking I'd gone too far. But no, my show was not back on. It was a well-planned commercial, making me watch it.

By the way, is it just me, or does House have more commercial breaks than other TV shows?

Overall, I think the most frustrating (and...good) strategy is Bravo's. They feature sponsored items on the shows (we're onto you, nondiscreet product placement lords over at Bravo), they break up the commercial breaks with funny clips and bloopers from the show that's playing (looking at you, Top Chef), and they also splice up the commercial break with commercials for other Bravo TV shows, as opposed to using those ads only at the beginning and end of the commercial break. For example, on TNT I know that if I see an ad for another TNT show, my show is about to come back on after it's over, so I hit play ahead of time. On Bravo, I keep hitting play for random Bravo commercials, as I never know which one will be the bookend commercial that signals my show coming back on.

My favorite shows are like Sons of Anarchy on FX, where Viewer Discretion is Advised, and I see the black screen forewarning me when my show's about to come back on. I pretty much like any show that flashes the same thing before the new scene's about to start, which is all I visually skim for as I FF commercials.

And then of course there's online TV, like, where they make your show pause for 15 or 30 seconds and force you to watch one featured commercial over and over again. That really ticks me off. Give me some variety at least! Especially when they trick you and play a minute-long commercial, and it's up to YOU to hit "continue" when it releases you from your commercial viewing prison. Tricky TV network bastards!

Do you have any favorite shows or networks that tell you when to forward, pause and play? Have you noticed any other TIVO/DVR-proof tricks that the networks are using as they adapt to modern TV-watching habits?

Or am I an old-fuddy-duddy who should just skip to DLing everything online so that there are NO commercials? Personally, I feel as though that's only encouraging on-screen commercials that pop up during shows which I haaate.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and observations with me!

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