Tuning In: Ads Creep Over the World Series

But No Commercials When Comedy Central Broadcasts 'Rally to Restore Sanity'

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PROGRAM GUIDE

Filling the screen: If you're a baseball fan, the sight of the Giants clobbering the Rangers isn't the only thing you're seeing during Fox's broadcast of the World Series. You're also detecting concrete signals that marketing messages are poised to take over more of the boob-tube real estate normally devoted to programming.

Fox ran a promo for its drama "The Good Guys" last night that plopped right out and sat in the center of the bottom of the screen, blocking visual access to the goings-on of the game. A while later, the network ran a baseball stats feature sponsored by Berkshire Hathaway's Geico that started with an animated scene of the Geico Gecko taking a swing -- a visual, by the way, that blocked visual access to the game.

On cable, these sorts of obnoxious bottom-screen promos -- often known as "snipes" -- and visual ad integrations have become de rigueur, as anyone who watches a MLB Network news show with UPS insignia bursting from the anchor desks can tell you. Broadcasters have typically been leery to embrace these tactics wholesale -- except in sports broadcasts, where they at least usually try to avoid blocking your view.

For some reason, sports fans don't seem to mind ads plastered all over the screen when they watch their favorite matchups. Perhaps it's because they see ads plastered all over the stadium when they go to see games in person. Maybe it's because Nascar has blurred the line so much between advertising and sport that this sort of stuff doesn't offend the way it does when it's forced into dialogue and scenery of comedies and dramas.

The trouble? Once these techniques are embraced by sports fans, they typically start to spill over -- like so many bedbugs in a hotel room or movie theater -- to the next piece of content.

So now Fox is running commercials that block the view of the game -- even if it's just for a few seconds. Yes, we know, rights fees for sports keeping going up and up and up, and if fans want to keep watching expensive TV fare for free, the ads have to creep in somewhere.

Creeping on to the screen is one thing, however. Sitting atop the view as if one owns it is quite another.

CHANNEL SURFING

No ads on 'Sanity': Buried deep in this interesting article from The New York Times about the coming Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert "Rally to Restore Sanity" in Washington, D.C., is this little tidbit: When Comedy Central broadcasts the event live, it will do so commercial-free.

Makes sense. Details about the event's content have been light and advertisers have been known to get squeamish when news-channel personalities rely overmuch on flame-throwing. But Mr. Stewart's "rally" is expected to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek. In any case, the next step for ad watchers is to find out whether any marketers have stepped up to advertise to actual attendees.

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