ABC's Ad-Skipping Plan Surprises Media Buyers

Network Plans to Cancel First Ad Break in Debuts of Fall Shows in Order to Hook Viewers

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NEW YORK ( -- ABC's decision to reduce ad time in the debut episodes of the network's new fall programs has raised the eyebrows of several media buyers.

'Modern Family' will be among the shows to have the first ad break removed.
'Modern Family' will be among the shows to have the first ad break removed. Credit: ABC
The Walt Disney network has opted to remove the first ad break from new programs including "Flash Forward," "Modern Family," "Eastwick" and others set to debut this week as part of the new 2009-2010 TV season, as first reported by the Los Angeles Times. Ad buyers are curious as to whether ABC is doing this as part of a bold experiment to keep viewers hooked deeper into each launch episode, or whether its decision to hold back ad inventory during the recent upfront has left it with some free space in the lineup.

Indeed, several prominent ad buyers interviewed yesterday evening expressed surprise at the maneuver, and said they hadn't heard about it previously. ABC, the Los Angeles Times reported, didn't try to secure a single sponsorship for the idea, which will wind up with viewers seeing more program content and fewer commercials. Last season, rival Fox tried a similar strategy when it sold single sponsors into new shows "Fringe" and "Dollhouse." Fox later dropped that sales tactic in favor of a traditional prime-time sell for those shows this season.

For its part, ABC execs said the ad-reduction idea is part of a larger plan to get viewers hooked on new shows at a time when they have a dizzying array of entertainment choices.

Given "all of the new content that is out there, there is an incredible challenge," said Geri Wang, senior VP-prime-time sales, ABC Television Network. "We've got to break through and devise marketing, formatting and viewing presentations that drive towards making the most noise and getting the most attention we possibly can."

Ms. Wang declined to comment on whether ABC was losing any advertising revenue as a result of the effort, though presumably securing a more devoted viewership would benefit the program's ratings over the long haul, and drive sales in syndication, internationally and in DVDs.

"I don't think it's a gamble," Ms. Wang said. "We are being super-aggressive" in terms of marketing and selling programs.

One ad-buying executive said he believes the idea could have long-term value. "Could their objective be that they saw softness in the marketplace" and decided to use it to some advantage? asked Larry Novenstern, exec VP-director of national and local broadcast at Publicis Groupe's Optimedia. " I don't know, but trying it out, I think it's a good idea," he said. "While it's not in-your-face and I don't think it's really being told to the public in general, I'll be very curious to see if anything happens."

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