Block That Ad: Heavy NFL RedZone Users Miss Up to 38 Hours in Ad Time

But NFL Network's Ad-Free Sunday Fun-Fest Has Relatively Small Market Penetration

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A still from NFL RedZone Highlights from last season.
A still from NFL RedZone Highlights from last season. Credit: NFL Network

Like a linebacker smashing his way past a hapless offensive tackle en route to putting a bone-rattling hit on the quarterback, the commercials in an average NFL broadcast are relentless. Pop, pop, pop: There's Denis Leary growling about the virtues of a mud-spattered truck. Bang, bang, bang: There's the CGI lizard who sounds vaguely like Jude Law, talking up car insurance. Biff, bam, bing: There's the umpteenth beer spot, the seemingly inexhaustible wireless ad, the latest auto commercial featuring that increasingly manic spokeswoman.

It doesn't have to be that way. While it may be a dicey position to take in a publication devoted to the business of advertising, the sheer volume and metronomic repetition of the ads in a typical NFL game can make a lazy Sunday afternoon on the couch feel like running an Oklahoma drill without a helmet.

Last year, commercial time in regular-season games on CBS, Fox, NBC and NFL Network -- ESPN carries a lighter ad load than its fellow NFL broadcast partners -- averaged out to around 21 minutes per hour, or a little more than a solid hour per game. The average for pretty much everything else on TV? 15 minutes, according to Nielsen.

But as any subscriber of NFL Network's RedZone channel can tell you, there's no reason to stand around in the pocket while the likes of Bud Light, Verizon and State Farm try to pound their messages into your skull for a solid 63 minutes.

Hosted by Scott Hanson, NFL RedZone's whip-around coverage takes fans to every scoring opportunity in CBS and Fox's 1 p.m. and 4:25 p.m. games in what amounts to a football junkie's fever dream. It's a six-and-a-half-hour barrage of goal-line stands, end-zone acrobatics and fantasy pay dirt, with all the fat hacked away. No huddles, no endless deliberation under the hood during coach's challenges, no shots of hulking linemen milling around while waiting for the offense to mosey over to the line of scrimmage. And here's the kicker: this pharmaceutical-grade NFL product is 100% commercial free.

While Netflix remains the gold standard for ad avoidance -- if, per BTIG estimates, the average sub watches two hours of the streaming service per day, he or she sidesteps 182.5 hours of commercial messaging per year -- the impact of RedZone is nothing to sneeze at. If a viewer watches the channel's full menu of early- and late-afternoon coverage, he or she will have skipped out on no fewer than two hours and sixteen minutes of advertising in a single Sunday binge session. Keep that up over RedZone's 17-week run and the crafty fan will have avoided a whopping 38 hours and 45 minutes of garrulous geckos, khaki-clad insurance agents and Bedazzler-enthusiast shop clerks.

Another way to look at the impact RedZone may have on a single high-volume viewer is to break down those missed impressions into discrete ad units. Over the course of the regular season, our hypothetical six-point-five-hour viewer is not exposed to 139,200 seconds of advertising, which translates to 4,640 "lost" 30-second spots.

While none of this is exactly welcome news to the networks and their ad partners, the overall impact of RedZone is relatively muted. NFL Network reaches some 73.6 million households, but the vast majority of those subs do not pay the premium required to access the RedZone channel. And while NFLN doesn't break out the number of RedZone subs, analysts estimate that the base is no larger than 4 million homes.

Given that the eight late national games on Fox last season averaged 26.6 million viewers and a 15.3 household rating, while CBS's 4:25 p.m. package drew 25.5 million viewers and a 14.8 HH rating, it's unlikely that anyone is losing sleep over the RedZone proposition. And the ad-free service certainly hasn't diluted either network's revenue stream; depending on the time slot, matchups and demand, each nationally televised NFL game generates between $35 million to $50 million in ad dollars.

RedZone coverage kicks off on Sunday, Sept. 13. The marquee games include Fox's Seahawks-Rams tussle at 1 p.m. and CBS's broadcast of the Ravens-Broncos showdown at 4:25 p.m.

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