That One About Commercial Ratings? Not Funny

'Late Late' Viewers Protest Commercial Ratings Ploy to Interrupt Monologue

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NEW YORK ( ) -- Commercial ratings are many things: complex, divisive, game-changing. But they aren't particularly funny, as viewers of "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson" discovered Thursday night. After howls of protest, the host soothed the audience by assuring his abbreviated monologue was only an experiment that would not be repeated.
Craig Ferguson
Craig Ferguson Credit: Jeff Niera/CBS

Earlier this week, Mr. Ferguson told his audience in the show's opening segment that he had to break up his monologue because the first ad break was running earlier in the show. The culprit? Many ad deals for the fall season are based on ratings for commercial breaks, instead of ratings for programs, and CBS is experimenting with ideas that would give ad breaks better numbers -- particularly during late night where viewership declines as the hour grows late.

Bloggers groan
"All this week, if you've been watching the show, we've been talking about taking [an] early commercial break, about three minutes into the show," Mr. Ferguson said Thursday night, according to a transcript provided by CBS. "And the results are in. They have come in from the CBS switchboard. We got big reaction from the folks that watch the show and apparently everybody hates the 3-minute thing. The internets were going crazy. Bloggers were going 'blahhhhh.' So your voices have been heard."

CBS ad-sales executives have said they are experimenting with the placement of ad breaks to find out what works for advertisers, the program and viewers. In this case, they are trying to determine what results from moving the two ad breaks in "The Late Late Show" earlier in the program. They have also said they were experimenting to a much lesser extent with "The Late Show with David Letterman."

Mr. Ferguson continued to talk about the commercial-break experiment on his program, noting that "I read the e-mails, all the angry e-mails and, I have one thing to say: calm down. It was just an experiment. Sometimes experiments lead to great things. Sometimes they lead to people pointing and laughing at you. And that's not what happened here."

'Really, really fine line'
Unlike prime time, where audiences are more likely to watch an entire show, late night remains a tricky environment for advertisers. The audience dwindles as the clock ticks away. "It does seem like some marketers would be more interested in pushing their units a little bit more far forward," said John Moore, senior VP-director of ideas and innovation at Interpublic Group of Cos. agency Mullen. But he noted that the technique could seem intrusive to viewers. "It's a really, really fine line."

With the advent of time-shifted viewing, broadband streaming and video on demand, the message consumers have sent over and over again is they prefer not to have their entertainment needlessly interrupted.

As for Mr. Ferguson? He said during the show that he and CBS have realized that "a commercial break, obviously, 3 minutes into the show is not a good idea. It seems to be like most of my relationships. I'm done after about 3 minutes -- you seem to want more." Just one more early ad break will run in Friday night's show, he told viewers.
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