Finding the 'Sweet Spot' for Ads in Your Favorite TV Show

From 'Modern Family' to 'NCIS,' Each Show's Ads Have A Most-Watched Moment

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What if each and every show on TV, be it "Modern Family," "Survivor" or "Biggest Loser," had a "sweet spot" for advertisers -- a particular moment where commercials running in the program were more effective and received better by the audiences watching them?

'Modern Family'
'Modern Family' Credit: ABC

Analyzing second-by-second viewing data provided by TiVo, Interpublic Group of Cos.' Magna Global says it believes the highest-rated commercial pods often occur adjacent to particular moments in sitcoms, dramas and reality programs, bolstering the idea that running a commercial helter-skelter across a TV network's schedule can actually reduce the power of the spot.

It's no secret in the ad business that the first and last ads in a commercial break are often the most watched -- after all, they air closest to the TV show that drew viewers to the boob tube in the first place. Yet the Magna Global study suggests attention to commercials parallels attention paid to the programs they interrupt, where viewers eager to see the start, conclusion or other specific parts of a show will give more consideration to the ads placed alongside those segments.

"This type of measure isn't currency yet, which is kind of why we've been pushing pod measurement as a way to get more details like this," said Brian Hughes, VP-director of audience analysis at Magna Global. "It helps us buy smarter."

Among the findings of Magna Global's study:

Attention paid to the ads accompanying initial segments of many CBS procedurals -- including "CSI: Miami," "NCIS" and "Criminal Minds" -- is more substantial than that accorded ad breaks alongside other parts of the programs. Mr. Hughes suggested CBS's programming is heavily consumed by homes with digital video recorders, where viewers may want to sample the opening segment of the show. That's often where a crime is committed (and, oftentimes, comes with gore or violence) and viewers are likely trying to see if they like the set-up or if they've seen the episode in the past, said Mr. Hughes.

The trend can't be extended to all procedural dramas. Magna Global found viewers of NBC's "Law & Order: SVU" paid the most attention during the last ad break in the show.

Heavy attention is paid to different moments in different sitcoms. Viewers of ABC's "Modern Family" and NBC's "30 Rock" paid the most attention during the last ad breaks in the programs (which often come before quick, funny segments that run alongside credits), while viewers of CBS's "Big Bang Theory" paid the most attention to the first ad break in the half-hour comedy.

"It has to do with the way the shows are sort of pulled" or broken up by advertising, said Mr. Hughes. "It depends on whether it's a family comedy or an ensemble cast."

Viewers pay the most attention to the last ad break of many serial dramas. The highest-rated ad breaks in "Grey's Anatomy," "Desperate Housewives" on ABC, "Gossip Girl" and "90210" on CW and "Parenthood" on NBC were always the last one, Magna Global found. Interestingly, these are the ad breaks that precede segments in which networks tantalize viewers by offering scenes from the next episode.

"People are really sort of attuned to that moment where they see what the set up [for next week] or the cliffhanger is going to be," said Mr. Hughes.

The Magna study has its limitations. TiVo reaches only a portion of the U.S. populace, and households with DVRs tend to view TV differently than those without.

Magna believes DVR users can be more important for advertisers to understand and reach than viewers watching at specific day-and-date appointments, Mr. Hughes said. DVR users tend to focus more intently on the show they've recorded and may not multitask. "It's a very important audience to understand, even though this isn't necessarily representative of the total," he said.

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