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The survey, done in conjunction with TNS Media Intelligence, calculates the total commercial minutes and additional non-program materials, which often include programming plugs and other in-house spots.
CBS has the least clutter
The runner-up among the Big Four was NBC, with 14:58 of total non-program minutes, clocking in two seconds below the average of 15 non-program minutes. Rounding out the study were Fox with 14:40 and CBS with a positively trim 13:51.
On cable, MTV had the highest total of non-programming minutes among the 10 networks profiled in the study, with 16:09. It had a considerable lead over its three closest competitors, USA (15:48), Lifetime (15:47) and Discovery (15:40).
Now in its 10th year, the Clutter Watch also included Spanish-language networks in its data for the first time this year. Only Telemundo had a clutter average of 15 minutes, while Futura averaged 11:10 and Univision 12:15.
Counting Hispanic TV
"Hispanic television and the Hispanic market has taken on so much importance lately it was important to include them," said Debbie Solomon, senior partner-research at MindShare. "Those networks are getting ratings equal to regular broadcast networks so it wouldn't be fair not to include them."
TV ad clutter has come a long way since a 1983 NAB mandate that forbid any commercial total to go past 9:30 during any given hour of programming. But as the networks have created more pods with more commercials, they're also finding ways to to make sure viwers don't ignore the extra ad time. Fox and CW have started running "content wraps" and short interstitials that weave the network's program with a marketer's message, while the MTV Networks have their own short programs called "podbusters" to insert during shows such as "Best Week Ever" on VH1 and the Thursday night male-targeted comedy lineup on MTV.
Ms. Solomon was pleased to see an increased effort on the networks' part to decrease the airwave pollution. "It doesn't fight against clutter, but it helps with the response to clutter by helping retain people in the commercial break." What will help networks continue to fight the good fight against clutter, Ms. Solomon added, is when they see commercials as part of the programming, as they do during the Super Bowl.
Having a high clutter count doesn't go unnoticed by the buyers, either. While ABC's tally may seem staggering to some, Andy Donchin, director-national broadcast at Carat, said he thought it would have been higher when presented with the numbers by Ad Age.
"Clutter is always something that concerns us," he said. "Obviously network television is important to us. Everyone is looking toward this level of keeping viewers engaged to commercials. They're top of mind on the radar screen."
Mr. Donchin, for one, has been ready to have the clutter conversation for quite some time. "Now, obviously, networks are going to be held liable against this move toward commercial ratings. But the bottom line is there was too much clutter on the air 10 years ago."