NBC Vows to Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Shows Less Often

  • Programmer to slash commercial minutes by 10% in prime time
  • Networks respond as ad-free options like Netflix add viewers
NBCUniversal plans to cut commercial time by 10 percent in prime time. #tictocnews

Comcast Corp.’s NBCUniversal plans to cut commercial time by 10 percent in prime time, joining competitors that are trying to woo younger viewers accustomed to watching shows ad-free on services like Netflix Inc.

NBCUniversal, which owns the NBC broadcast network and cable channels like USA and Bravo, said in a statement Wednesday it will also slash the number of ads by 20 percent and introduce a new 60-second commercial break -- most are two or three minutes long -- that it plans to sell to one or two brands. More than 50 of NBC’s original shows will have fewer interruptions.

Media companies have been promising fewer ads for years -- not only to retain viewers drawn to commercial-free options, but also to appeal to advertisers concerned that their messages get lost amid the clutter. To make up for fewer spots, NBCUniversal will probably try to raise prices in May, when networks book advance orders for the coming TV season.

By airing fewer ads, the theory goes, the remaining ones become more memorable to consumers and more valuable to advertisers, letting programmers charge higher rates.

As part of the change, NBC plans to use technology to comb through show scripts so it can air commercials near scenes that are relevant to that product.

Pop-Up Ads

NBCUniversal will also introduce interactive “picture in picture” ads, so a show might feature a drink in a scene, while a promo for that product pops in the corner of the TV. Actors on shows will interact ads in some way, such as by pointing viewers to the bottom of the screen. The company also plans to integrate fans’ social commentary about a show into commercials.

Other TV networks have promised to cut ads. Three years ago, Time Warner Inc., 21st Century Fox Inc. and Viacom Inc., all pledged to scale back on commercials after years of squeezing in as many ads as possible.

But the TV industry continues to stuff more commercials into breaks, hoping to make up for declining ratings. Commercial loads rose 3.9 percent to 11 minutes per hour in January compared with the same month a year ago, according to Brian Wieser, an analyst at Pivotal Research Group. It was the biggest year-over-year increase since July 2015, he said.

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