The Critical 'I'

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Tuesday, April 27, 2004

THE DEATH OF 30 SECONDS
Digital video recorders may not be ubiquitous yet, but it appears that advertisers are seeing the writing on the wall, as a new Forrester survey reveals they're expecting to cut spending on television commercial time (i.e., the traditional 30-second ad spots) by 20 percent over the next five years. The retreat is expected to start on the national cable ad front, followed by national network ads, local spots and local cable ads.

Obviously, the advertising community is expecting DVRs to take strong hold in American households, and that people will actively use the ad-skipping button during playback. I have no doubt that DVRs will become commonplace, thanks mainly to cable companies pushing their versions (versus Tivo's) of the devices. I'm still somewhat skeptical about television viewers intensively skipping the ads they record. Regardless of how easy a DVR might make it, it still requires some effort from the viewer to forward past those spots; that means a lot of active interaction during viewing. This is generally the opposite type of behavior you usually see from a television viewer--most people take a passive role while they're viewing, which is why the 30-second spots are so effective now, even with remote controls and older recording devices at hand. I'm unconvinced that the DVR is revolutionary enough in function and capability to change viewership habits. It could be that all this planned retrenchment will just open up the medium to other advertisers savvy enough to zig where others zag.

As expected, the Web is expected to be the chief beneficiary of this, with a lot of that former TV money going online. It's important to remember, though, that other media will also see a rise from this, including publishing. The key is that ad placement in those vehicles are harder to skip/avoid; what's typically seen as an old-style drawback is suddenly an advantage.