Study: Commercials battle all-time-high TV clutter

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The J. Walter Thompson USA/Ogilvy & Mather media Alliance has instituted the most extensive study yet on TV clutter--an ongoing report that will monitor the issue on a weekly basis.

Clutter involves any non-programming material, primarily commercials and promotional spots. And the issue is a key one for advertisers as they scramble to break through the crowd of commercial messages to reach consumers.

BAD NEWS

But the Alliance has bad news for marketers shouting to be heard above the din.

"Despite the overwhelming evidence that increases in commercial and non-program material on television have a negative impact on commercial effectiveness, clutter has reached an all-time high," according to the initial report of the Alliance Clutter Watch.

For the first six months of '98, ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox averaged 8 minutes, 48 seconds of network commercials per hour in prime time. Add in local spots, and that goes to 11 minutes and 12 seconds. Total non-programming time (not including split-screen credits/promos at the end of most shows) averaged 13 minutes and 22 seconds.

Monitoring over the summer revealed little change in the numbers. ABC has aired the most network commercial minutes so far this year, while NBC has the lowest network commercial-minute average. Fox, with the greatest amount of local spots per hour, aired the most total commercials per hour. CBS had the lowest total commercials.

"This is the type of information we will be taking into consideration in our media recommendations," said Peter Chrisanthopoulos, O&M's president of broadcasting and programming, USA.

ECONOMIC PRESSURES

The report notes, "The issue is not advertising or commercials. We also recognize the economic pressures on the networks that increased commercialization eases . . . [Nevertheless,] we will . . . take clutter into consideration in our planning and negotiating decisions."

If clutter continues to increase, "damaging the effectiveness of commercials, it's the sellers who will be hurt the most," said David Marans, research director for JWT.

Those remarks send a strong message to media companies since the Alliance alone spends $2.6 billion annually on national TV time.

The initial report only monitored the four major broadcast networks. Subsequent reports will add selected cable channels.

The American Association of Advertising Agencies issues the best-known clutter report: it is based on just two weeks' of data.

Copyright December 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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