“Consideration for American Idol provided by … A Really Large Company That’s Trying to Sell You Something”
Everywhere I go – okay, everywhere on the internet I go, I see people complaining about having to see ads on cable networks while still paying for a cable subscription, about the number of commercials on broadcast TV, about the repetitiveness of the ads on Hulu, paying for HuluPlus and still seeing ads … the list could go on forever.
Let’s look at some fun facts:
When it originally aired in 2003, the Friends episode “The One With the Donor” (9.22) had a runtime of approximately 22 minutes. Cut for reruns on TBS and local networks like WAVY10, the runtime is about 20 minutes. On NickatNite, the runtime is about 17 minutes, sometimes even less. I’ve watched NickatNite reruns where the 30 minute time slot is half commercials. That’s not an exaggeration – I’ve timed them.
Nowadays, original airings of half-hour comedies usually run anywhere from 19:30 to 21:30 including credits, and it’s becoming entirely more common to see runtimes on the lower end of the spectrum. The Big Bang Theory has aired episodes with as low as 18 minutes of content. It’s not because shows have gotten better at telling stories in smaller amounts of time, it’s because networks need to make money, and one of the ways they can do that is by increasing ad air time. After all, 30 less seconds of Modern Family will earn ABC around $250,000.
There are bunch of other ways for ads to be included. If you ever hear “Consideration for Two and a Half Men is provided by…” — a company paid extra for that to be said on air. If you’ve ever heard Joe Buck talk about Coke or Tostitos or Gillette razors on the air – those companies paid for that. If you ever see Matt Lauer drinking Fiji Water – paid for.
In scripted TV, you see product placement happen even more. Big Mike (Chuck) didn’t just happen to love Subway, the sandwich chain was a huge sponsor of the show. In fact, fans’ patronage of Subway during Chuck’s tenuous time on the chopping block was probably the only reason the show ran as long as it did. Modern Family’s Phil and Claire don’t drive a Toyota Sienna because it’s the only minivan the producers could find – Toyota provided the car and likely paid to have the car show up in the show. Likewise, it’s not a coincidence that the Pritchett-Dunphy family goes to Disneyland in this season’s finale — the show airs on ABC, and ABC is owned by Disney.
It costs networks (cable and broadcast) a lot of money to produce the content you see on TV. The reason you see ads on cable even though you pay a cable subscription is that subscription fees won’t cover everything, and distribution of those fees between networks isn’t created equal. ESPN gets approximately $4.75 per subscriber per month, (if you do the math, it’s about $470M per month) just for the main channel. Networks that carry scripted programs get significantly less, even if their ratings are impressive for their content. Cable needs the dual revenue stream, because advertising companies won’t pay as much for a 30-second spot during Suits on USA as they will during The Office on NBC.
The fact is the internet and DVRs have cannibalized the way networks usually fund their programming. I’m sure there are a lot of you that don’t watch the majority of your shows on traditional channels any more, and many of you probably stream from less than reputable sources. It’s just the way the world works now, for every person that will sit down and watch a show as it airs without fast-forwarding through commercials, there’s two that DVR and skip ads, and four that just watch online later via Sidereel.
In an increasingly ad-resistant world, companies have to find ways to force you to watch their commercials. If that means making you watch the same Dove ad three times during an episode of Parks and Recreation, then so be it. If that means embedding products into content you won’t skip, then so be it. TV advertising is still an incredibly important means of marketing, and companies aren’t willing to give up that kind of exposure. They are willing to put their products into every corner of your world so that you can’t ignore them – because if you’re counting Coke cans instead of sheep, at least you’re not counting Pepsi cans.
This Week’s Office Quote:
Ryan: Did this happen on company property?
Michael: It was on company propery, with company property. So, double jeopardy, we’re fine.
Ryan: I don’t think – I don’t think you understand how jeopardy works.
Michael: Oh, I’m sorry. What is ‘we’re fine’?
(“Fun Run”, Season 4, Episode 1/2)