Networks Know You Hate Ads, and Here’s What They’re Finally Doing About It

As young viewers tune out at increasingly alarming rates, linear TV execs hope rejiggering the ads might help.

Network erosion is nothing new, but execs accustomed to ratings declines have still been stunned by the huge drop in prime-time PUT (“people using television”) levels this fall. Young viewers are abandoning traditional TV in droves, and adult 18-34 viewership has plunged 15 percent in one year.

“There’s a shift in the way people are viewing,” said one network research executive, who shared data on background. “Older adults still view TV as much as they used to on a TV screen. But there’s a lot less live viewing, and people are shifting to different platforms.”

Nielsen doesn’t report on people watching video on mobile phones, iPads, or laptops, which also impacts numbers. But as viewers migrate to other platforms, the primary reason has been made abundantly clear in survey after survey: “The No. 1 complaint is ads,” the researcher said.

Of course, since the dawn of television, commercials have always been seen as a necessary intrusion in exchange for programming. But the subscription on-demand world has tested audience patience with ads now that they can more easily skip ads, or bypass them all together. That has led congloms to test new ways to make commercials feel less intrusive.

Turner networks have aggressively aimed at reducing ad loads, with TNT/TBS president Kevin Reilly promising to drop ad loads by 50 percent on originals. This spring, Fox Networks Group said it would attempt to reduce its ad load to two minutes per hour (vs. around 15 minutes now) by 2020. And NBCUniversal has aimed at reducing its ad inventory by 10 percent.

For viewers this fall, the most noticeable change has been on NBC and Fox, which introduced short ad pods to entice viewers to stick around. At NBCUniversal, the 60-second “Prime Pod” was sold on more than 50 shows across its various networks, including shows like “This Is Us,” “The Good Place,” and “Manifest” on NBC. At Fox, the “JAZ Pods” (short for “just a and z” — the first and last ads of a traditional commercial break) are also 60-second breaks, as well as three- to six-minute branded content blocks (“Fox Blocks”) at the end of a show.

“We are ad-supported at the end of the day, we are going to continue to always be ad supported,” said NBCUniversal’s Josh Feldman, executive vice president of network partnerships. “But we feel very strongly that we can set the new standard as to what that fine balance of a great viewing experience is while also creating advertising opportunities that are more valuable.”

NBC’s Prime Pod message informing viewers that “Manifest” returns in 1 minute

NBC

In the case of some hour-long shows, the “Prime Pod” gave NBC the opportunity to push the first ad break until 20 minutes into a show. A quick message announces that the show they’re watching will be back in one minute.

“We created these very specific acknowledgements that we’ll be back in 60 seconds,” Feldman said. “Everybody has 60 seconds to spare. Advertising still works, that’s the beauty of what we’re doing here. We’re just creating a platform where if we say this is only 60 seconds long people, will be still leaning forward because they don’t mind giving a minute to a ‘prime pod.'”

Fox’s “JAZ Pods” commercial break, with a countdown clock

Fox

At Fox, the “JAZ Pods” ran on three Sundays this fall — Oct. 14, Oct. 21, and Nov. 11, and has also been used in a handful of other Fox Networks Group series. For its 60-second break, Fox even added a countdown clock to further inform viewers that the commercial intrusion would be over quickly.

Of course, the challenge is to convince advertisers to pay more for the spots, with networks arguing that viewers are more engaged and their messages resonate more when there’s less clutter around it. According to Advertising Age, NBC asked for a premium between 40 percent and 70 percent higher for a “Prime Pod” ad. And Fox had to roll back a more ambitious plan for its “JAZ Pods” when it hit a few snags.

“From a marketer’s point of view, it’s got to be about [return on investment],” Feldman said. “They appreciate the fact that we’re doing this for our fan base, but for them they’ve got to sell product. Together we’ll figure out what that value truly is. We’re six weeks into what’s a five-year plan here. This is something that together with our advertising partners we’re going to find out the true value of this… The prime pods are here to stay.”

Nonetheless, both NBC and Fox have declared their clutter reduction experiments an early success. According to Fox, its “Fox Blocks” held viewers’ attention at twice the average rate, and its ads were more likely to be viewed and remembered. At NBC, the network reported a 38 percent lift in “ad likeability,” and 23 percent gain in “ad memorability” for its “Prime Pods.”

“We know people want better viewing experiences and marketers want growth. It’s up to us to deliver both,” Linda Yaccarino, NBCUniversal’s chairman of advertising sales and client partnerships, wrote in a letter to staffers on Monday. “We need to liberate ourselves from legacy processes and move towards a system that accurately reflects consumer behavior, and client needs.”

Has it moved the needle with overall primetime ad loads? It’s hard to say so far. According to Nielsen Monitor Plus, so far this fall NBC’s ad load is down a slight tick from last year (23.4 units per hour, from 23.5), while Fox is down more (20.0, vs. 20.5).

“What we have truly done is reduce commercial time in all of these shows we’re speaking of. It wasn’t just a displacement of commercials. Some of it is going back to program time, some of it is going elsewhere,” Feldman said. “We’re in the infancy of it, we only launched it a month ago, but I’m going to be looking at all of the results and finding the right way to roll out Phase 2 for next year’s upfront.”

NBCUniversal Upfront Ad Gains Powered By Telemundo, MSNBC

NBCUniversal has wrapped its upfront for 2018-19, sources with knowledge of the process confirmed.
Volume was up 5% overall and NBC primetime ads went up 7%. CPMs increased between 11% and 13% for broadcast prime and late-night, and NFL telecasts poste…

NBCUniversal has wrapped its upfront for 2018-19, sources with knowledge of the process confirmed. Volume was up 5% overall and NBC primetime ads went up 7%. CPMs increased between 11% and 13% for broadcast prime and late-night, and NFL telecasts posted a 7% rise, with similar sell-through to 2017 despite headwinds for the league over the past two seasons. Across the rest of sports, news and cable, CPMs rose in the high-single digits. Telemundo and MSNBC were two key…

Disney Wraps Upfront Ad Sales as ESPN Lands Double-Digit Revenue Increases

Disney closed its upfront sales on Thursday, with the company seeing gains in both pricing and revenue, led by ESPN’s portfolio of live sports.

This was the first year that Disney reported its upfront sales as a combined company across ABC, Freeform, ESPN and Disney Channel. The company negotiated many of its deals with the bigger advertising agencies together, led by Kevin Mayer, the chairman of Disney’s Direct-to-Consumer and International segments.

Much of the increased demand was led by ESPN and its array of live sports programming, which includes “Monday Night Football” and its NBA games. ESPN delivered double-digit gains in volume and CPM — the cost for reaching 1,000 viewers. Overall, Disney saw CPM increases in the low double-digit across all dayparts and high singles in cable, with revenue growth in the high single-digits across the board.

Also Read: Fox Wraps Upfront Ad Sales as ‘Thursday Night Football’ Drives Volume, Pricing Gains

Upcoming series that drew the strongest advertiser interest included ABC’s “The Fix,” “A Million Little Things” and “Grand Hotel,” and Freeform’s “Pretty Little Liars” spinoff, “The Perfectionists.”

There was also a 25 percent increase in digital spending, which was up from 20 percent growth in 2017. Disney also cut more than twice the amount of addressable advertising deals — ads that are sold on a household level vs the Nielsen-provided age and gender demographics.

Disney’s upfront sales wrapped about a month after Fox and CW closed theirs.

Related stories from TheWrap:

Fox Wraps Upfront Ad Sales as ‘Thursday Night Football’ Drives Volume, Pricing Gains

CW Closes Upfront Sales as ‘Black Lightning,’ New Sunday Night Block Drive Volume Gains

Upfront Wrap-Up: TV Network Chiefs Grapple With Uncertain Advertising Environment

Disney closed its upfront sales on Thursday, with the company seeing gains in both pricing and revenue, led by ESPN’s portfolio of live sports.

This was the first year that Disney reported its upfront sales as a combined company across ABC, Freeform, ESPN and Disney Channel. The company negotiated many of its deals with the bigger advertising agencies together, led by Kevin Mayer, the chairman of Disney’s Direct-to-Consumer and International segments.

Much of the increased demand was led by ESPN and its array of live sports programming, which includes “Monday Night Football” and its NBA games. ESPN delivered double-digit gains in volume and CPM — the cost for reaching 1,000 viewers. Overall, Disney saw CPM increases in the low double-digit across all dayparts and high singles in cable, with revenue growth in the high single-digits across the board.

Upcoming series that drew the strongest advertiser interest included ABC’s “The Fix,” “A Million Little Things” and “Grand Hotel,” and Freeform’s “Pretty Little Liars” spinoff, “The Perfectionists.”

There was also a 25 percent increase in digital spending, which was up from 20 percent growth in 2017. Disney also cut more than twice the amount of addressable advertising deals — ads that are sold on a household level vs the Nielsen-provided age and gender demographics.

Disney’s upfront sales wrapped about a month after Fox and CW closed theirs.

Related stories from TheWrap:

Fox Wraps Upfront Ad Sales as 'Thursday Night Football' Drives Volume, Pricing Gains

CW Closes Upfront Sales as 'Black Lightning,' New Sunday Night Block Drive Volume Gains

Upfront Wrap-Up: TV Network Chiefs Grapple With Uncertain Advertising Environment

Disney Wraps TV Upfront Sales With Double-Digit CPM Gains At ABC, Single Digits In Cable

Disney’s reorganized ad-sales efforts bore fruit in the upfront marketplace, with double-digit CPM gains at ABC and high-single-digit increases at ESPN and Freeform.
The company did not comment on the results, but sources indicated that revenue s…

Disney’s reorganized ad-sales efforts bore fruit in the upfront marketplace, with double-digit CPM gains at ABC and high-single-digit increases at ESPN and Freeform. The company did not comment on the results, but sources indicated that revenue showed high-single-digit increases across the board on ABC as well as cable and kids. (The Disney Channels do not accept traditional spot buys but bring in significant sponsorship revenue.) Broadcast networks have announced healthy…

CBS Close To Wrapping Upfront Sales With Gains, Citing Late-Night & NFL

CBS has nearly wrapped up its upfront sales for the 2018-2019 broadcast season, recording CPM increases in the high-single to low-double digits, according to a network insider.
Most dayparts on the longtime ratings leader in total viewers saw double-di…

CBS has nearly wrapped up its upfront sales for the 2018-2019 broadcast season, recording CPM increases in the high-single to low-double digits, according to a network insider. Most dayparts on the longtime ratings leader in total viewers saw double-digit increases across platforms, the source said, with late-night performing well thanks to Stephen Colbert's hot streak. NFL sales and early commitments to next February's Super Bowl have been encouraging, the source…

CW Wraps Upfront Sales With Gains As It Adds Night

The CW has closed its upfront sales for the upcoming 2018-2019 TV season, seeing increases in both CPMs and overall volume.
Sources familiar with the situation say CW had low double-digit increases in advertising CPMs, with a jump of about 10%-11%. It …

The CW has closed its upfront sales for the upcoming 2018-2019 TV season, seeing increases in both CPMs and overall volume. Sources familiar with the situation say CW had low double-digit increases in advertising CPMs, with a jump of about 10%-11%. It also saw strong double-digit volume increases, with overall volume up about 15%. The network’s inventory is about 80% sold. The source said there’s been strong response from advertisers to the addition of an extra night of…

NBC, ABC, Fox Start to Sell as TV’s Upfront Market Heats Up (EXCLUSIVE)

TV’s upfront ad-sales market is getting into gear. NBC, ABC and Fox have all started to sell advance advertising commitments for their coming programming schedules, according to six executives familiar with the pace of this annual haggle session …

TV’s upfront ad-sales market is getting into gear. NBC, ABC and Fox have all started to sell advance advertising commitments for their coming programming schedules, according to six executives familiar with the pace of this annual haggle session between U.S. TV networks and Madison Avenue. They join CBS, whose sales activity became more noticeable late […]

CBS Starts to Sell Advertising in TV’s Upfront Market (EXCLUSIVE)

TV’s upfront ad-sales market is slowly starting to budge. CBS has begun to sell advance advertising commitments for its coming programming schedule, according to two executives with knowledge of the pace of negotiations in this annual haggle between U….

TV’s upfront ad-sales market is slowly starting to budge. CBS has begun to sell advance advertising commitments for its coming programming schedule, according to two executives with knowledge of the pace of negotiations in this annual haggle between U.S. TV networks and Madison Avenue. When it comes to primetime ad slots, these people suggest, CBS […]

ABC Faces Tricky Quest for Ad Dollars After ‘Roseanne’ Cancellation

ABC’s reboot of “Roseanne” was one of the most expensive programs for advertisers last season. Had the show continued into the next cycle, it might have grown more costly –  for the network airing it. ABC’s decision to can…

ABC’s reboot of “Roseanne” was one of the most expensive programs for advertisers last season. Had the show continued into the next cycle, it might have grown more costly –  for the network airing it. ABC’s decision to cancel the program in the wake of an offensive tweet from its star comes as the network is, […]

TV’s Most Interesting Ads Could Be Served by CBS, Hulu – and Samantha Bee

TV is heading for a commercial breakdown. TV networks are set to broadcast many of the same old ads viewers have grown accustomed to seeing for dozens of years. And yet, executives hope they can make those spots more interesting, more timely and harder…

TV is heading for a commercial breakdown. TV networks are set to broadcast many of the same old ads viewers have grown accustomed to seeing for dozens of years. And yet, executives hope they can make those spots more interesting, more timely and harder to ignore by finding new ways to distribute them and measure […]

The 4 Worst TV Show Titles of Fall 2018 and Suggestions on How to Fix Them

Plus, a defense of the best and possibly goofiest show titles.

What’s in a name? It could be a TV show’s destiny. The name of a TV series could make or break it, depending on if viewers are even willing to give it a chance. It’s a foot in the door, and sometimes that foot will get slammed if the audience is put off by its title. Remember “$#*! My Dad Says,” “GCB,” or “The Knights of Prosperity”? There’s a reason you don’t.

For the 2017 Fall TV season, IndieWire called out four shows — “9JKL,” “The Orville,” “Ten Days in the Valley,” and “Wisdom of the Crowd” — for their poor title choices. Of the lot, only “The Orville” survives, which may be more of a testament to the love for Seth Macfarlane and his specific brand of humor mixed with a love of “Star Trek.” Oddly enough, “The Orville” was probably the worst title of them all. Therefore, like Google, the Fox show was able to make a name for itself.

This year’s crop of recently announced new shows don’t have any title quite as heinous; instead, networks appear to be going in the opposite direction and trying to not stand out. This means that some titles are just mind-numbingly boring, unimaginative, or vague.

IndieWire continues this tradition by spotlighting some of the worst new titles coming this fall and suggesting how we’d fix them. But we’re also highlighting some of the best titles of the bunch and defending them in the process. Here’s how it all goes down:

The Worst

”I Feel Bad” (NBC)

"I Feel Bad"

“I Feel Bad”

Evans Vestal Ward/NBC

First Impression: Is this about dread? How the nation is divided? Our regret after eating that dodgy potato salad left out in the sun? Unfortunately, if anyone wants to write a negative review of the show, the headline just writes itself. And yes, the title may have come from Orli Auslander’s book “I Feel Bad: All Day. Every Day. About Everything,” but that context is lost here.
What It’s Really About: Emet (Sarayu Rao, aka Sarayu Blue) feels bad when she isn’t the perfect wife, mom, friend, or boss. Supposedly anyone can relate to the comedy of errors that is her life.
Better Titles: “True Blue,” “Doable,“ “All the Feels,” “(I’m)Perfection”

”New Amsterdam” (NBC)

Ryan Eggold, "New Amsterdam"

Ryan Eggold, “New Amsterdam”

Francisco Roman/NBC

First Impression: Either this is about colonizing the New World or a futuristic city with liberal drug laws (dammit, now we want to see that series). Also, if you guessed it’s a show about a Dutch homicide detective cursed with immortality, you’re right! “New Amsterdam” was the title of a failed 2008 crime drama starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. Perhaps that’s not the best mojo for a new show sharing the same name.
What It’s Really About: Idealistic medical director Dr. Max Goodwin (Ryan Eggold) takes over at the oldest hospital in America — you guessed it, the New Amsterdam. He’s on a mission to bring the heart and healing back to doctoring.
Better Titles: ”Recovery,” “The Best Medicine,” “The Doctor Is In,” “Rx” (and then name the doctor Rex), “Heal Thyself,” “The Goodwin Doctor” (It worked for ABC!), “Dr. Feelgoodwin” (okay, we’re getting silly)

”Fam” (CBS)

"Fam"

“Fam”

CBS

First Impression: Cringe alert. This is slang for that community of trusted people in your life, whether they’re blood-related or not. We don’t want just anyone throwing around this term, like that one awkward guy in your office who insists on using “woke” and “bae,” but now it appears that CBS has given everyone license to do so.
What It’s Really About: At least this show is about family. Sophisticated NYU history professor Jay (Tone Bell) proposes to his girlfriend Clem (Nina Dobrev), and his refined parents couldn’t be more thrilled with his choice… except it turns out her family is a total train wreck.
Better Titles: “Relatable,” “Bad Blood,” “It’s All Relative,” “Engaged,” “She Said Yes,” “Murphy’s In-Laws” (but change the character’s name changes to Murphy)

”Happy Together” (CBS)

"Happy Together"

“Happy Together”

CBS

First Impression: To be honest, with this title and Damon Wayans, Jr. in the cast, this is just a reminder of our dearly departed “Happy Endings.”
What It’s Really About: Inspired by one of the British producers having Harry Styles (One Direction’s Harry Styles? Yes, one and the same) stay with him for a bit, this comedy examines what happens when a boring married couple (Wayans, Jr. and Amber Stevens West) is suddenly saddled with a British pop star as a roommate.
Better Titles: ”The Odd Throuple,” ”In Harmony,” “The Flatmate,” “Three’s Accompaniment,” “Boy Banned”

Dishonorable Mentions:

“Roswell, New Mexico” (why not just call the reboot “Roswell”?), “Magnum P.I.” (for deleting the comma and the ‘stache), “FBI” (Dick Wolf is just phoning it in), “The Code” (is the title in code? Because we don’t get it)

The Best

”Manifest” (NBC)

"Manifest"

“Manifest”

Craig Blankenhorn/NBC/Warner Brothers

What It’s About: When Montenegro Air Flight 828 lands, it turns out that five years have passed in the world around them. The bizarre phenomenon is a shock at first, but then the passengers must deal with all the ways the world – and families and friends – have moved on without them in addition to trying to understand what happened to them.
Why It’s a Great Title: This works on so many levels: a) it could refer to the flight’s manifest, an airplane’s list of cargo or passengers, b) it could relate to making one’s wishes into reality, c) it plays off of the idea that something is very apparent and clear when, in fact, the opposite is true on this show, d) it could be a hint at Manifest Destiny, the belief that it was settlers were destined to expand across America, and e) it’s a simple, one-word title that isn’t generic.

God Friended Me” (CBS)

"God Friended Me"

“God Friended Me”

CBS

What It’s About: An outspoken atheist (Brandon Micheal Hall) has his life upended when a person named God friends him on Facebook, and suddenly he begins to make an impact on the world.
Why It’s a Great Title: Sure, it’s a goofy title but it conveys the goofy premise perfectly, and no one is going to learn about this show and suddenly forget what “God Friended Me” is about if they hear the title again.

Whiskey Cavalier” (ABC)

Scott Foley and Lauren Cohan, "Whiskey Cavalier"

Scott Foley and Lauren Cohan, “Whiskey Cavalier”

ABC

What It’s About: In this action-comedy, a heartbroken FBI agent named Whiskey Cavalier (Scott Foley) and a CIA agent (Lauren Cohan) — whose name probably has to do with hard liquor also but we really can’t say — team up to lead an interagency team of spies.
Why It’s a Great Title: This might be an unpopular opinion because the title is so goddamn silly, but it’s memorable and really captures the flavor of the equally silly tone of the show. The name also spoofs the upscale Bond-type of spy who has a signature beverage of choice, and “cavalier” reflects the more romantic and gallant side of Foley’s lovelorn character.

What’s your take on the new crop of shows? Check out IndieWire’s guide to all the new shows in the fall season and the first-look trailers for each.

Upfronts 2018: The Overachievers List

As we close the book on a wild upfront, with a lot of drama, some last-minute pickups, many cancellations and one resurrection, here is Deadline’s annual honor roll of those who excelled at the 2018 upfronts. Also included is a list of pods and indepen…

As we close the book on a wild upfront, with a lot of drama, some last-minute pickups, many cancellations and one resurrection, here is Deadline's annual honor roll of those who excelled at the 2018 upfronts. Also included is a list of pods and independent production companies with multiple series on broadcast and cable. Greg Berlanti and Aaron Kaplan lead the pack this upfront with three new series each. Berlanti just set a new record for the most on-air series with 14 …

Upfronts 2018: Network Ownership Peaks, Digital Rights Demands Increase As Volume & License Fees Slide

A week before ABC made its official new series orders, the network had not screened two high-profile pilots, the light action drama Whiskey Cavalier from producer Bill Lawrence, and comedy Most Likely To from Berlanti Productions. The holdup was due to…

A week before ABC made its official new series orders, the network had not screened two high-profile pilots, the light action drama Whiskey Cavalier from producer Bill Lawrence, and comedy Most Likely To from Berlanti Productions. The holdup was due to new expanded digital rights deals ABC had put forward a few weeks before it was to make pickup decisions. I hear the new template — which varied slightly from show to show and studio to studio — called for expanded stacking…

New 2018-19 Broadcast Shows Slowly Inch Toward Parity

The new series that have sprouted up for the 2018-19 television season are taking notable steps to be more inclusive in not only its casting but also with key creative roles, but parity still hasn’t been hit yet. Working with industry sources, Variety …

The new series that have sprouted up for the 2018-19 television season are taking notable steps to be more inclusive in not only its casting but also with key creative roles, but parity still hasn’t been hit yet. Working with industry sources, Variety has identified 88 key roles in 35 scripted shows debuting on broadcast […]

TV Upfronts: How the Studios Fared as Ownership Remains the Top Priority

Indie Sony TV feels the squeeze while Warner Bros. TV has to give up a piece of the pie to get a show on an outside network.read more


Indie Sony TV feels the squeeze while Warner Bros. TV has to give up a piece of the pie to get a show on an outside network.

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What We Learned From the 2018 Upfronts

TV’s 2018 upfront presentations brought with them new shows and plenty of surprises – just what anyone might expect from this annual paean to the nation’s biggest TV networks. Behind the glitz and celebrity, however, were a bevy of not-so-subtle remind…

TV’s 2018 upfront presentations brought with them new shows and plenty of surprises – just what anyone might expect from this annual paean to the nation’s biggest TV networks. Behind the glitz and celebrity, however, were a bevy of not-so-subtle reminders of how much money is at stake. Comcast, Walt Disney, 21st Century Fox, CBS and […]

Fall 2018-19 Network TV Schedule

With the broadcast lineups now set, here are the most interesting match-ups on the Fall 2018-19 TV schedule. FALL 2018-19 SCHEDULE *N=NEW SHOW; NT=NEW TIME; ND=NEW DAY; ALL TIMES ET MONDAY 8PM 8:30PM 9PM 9:30PM 10PM 10:30 NBC The Voice Manifest (N) ABC…

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2018-2019 Upfront Studio Scorecard: Volume of New Scripted Series Drops as Biz Faces Big Transitions

The logline on the 2018-2019 network TV development season: A glamorous business in the throes of transition grapples with unseen forces of disruption and the empire-building ambitions of its alpha-executive leaders. The major studios ended upfront wee…

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