But TV network executives are uncertain as to how soon the middle-ground unit could become a marketplace reality.
USED OUTSIDE U.S.
The survey by Myers Consulting Group, to be published in January, found that 12% of marketers are eyeing the use of :20s, which are used in a number of other countries.
"Early research we're seeing by marketers . . . suggests it's possible that the :20 may be an effective replacement unit for the :30 and would definitely be more effective than the :15," said Myers Consulting President-CEO Jack Myers, who predicted that 45% of marketers will utilize :20s by 2005.
"There are a lot of contingencies between here and there," he added, "but we were surprised by how seriously the :20 was being considered by major marketers."
STAGE OF UNHAPPINESS
"We're at a stage where there is an unhappiness [among marketers]," admitted Jon Nesvig, president of sales at Fox Broadcasting Co. "You can't convey the message in :15 units for a lot of products. It may well be that there's a discussion out there of people who are interested in making it work with media prices going up."
But "the groundswell hasn't happened yet," he added. "I am ambivalent about it. Making TV more effective and affordable for advertisers will certainly increase demand. It would also make it logistically more difficult for us."
A :20 would leave a 10-second gap in a normal 30-second commercial unit, although three :20s would equal one 60-second unit.
MAY COME AT PREMIUM
"One upfront concern for us is that the number is not divisible into 30," said a spokesman for Turner Broadcasting Sales. "It would require some retooling on our part. . . . I also think there would be an inclination to charge a premium rather than two-thirds of the cost of a 30-second spot."
Turner said it hasn't been approached about selling :20s yet, and the spokesman questioned their viability "when one of the largest new advertiser categories for TV is pharmaceuticals. They're looking for longer rather than shorter units."
"We've already used :20s successfully throughout Latin America," said Peter Spengler, VP-marketing services at Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. "I'm encouraging the use of :20s here. . . . I've asked our agencies, as they're developing creative, to look at a 20-second length along with a :30 and a :15."
"Atypical advertising lengths have always had a benefit for a specific purpose," said Bill Schultz, VP and general manager-tabletop category at paper products marketer Fort James. "I wouldn't say we're actively exploring the use of :20s, but I do think there's precedent in the marketplace for atypical lengths. I can see the logic in it to increase reach and communicate a little more information."
One agency media buyer warned marketers to be cautious in their embrace of the 20-second ad unit.
"Fifteens are clearly responsible for the clutter the industry is concerned about," he said. The consideration of :20s "is clearly a response against media inflation. But those same advertisers need to think long and hard about the long-term ramifications. This will certainly devalue the medium."
The Myers study is based on interviews with 322 marketing executives at 200 companies, supplemented by economic modeling. It also encompasses national media spending projections by marketers through 2005 and will adjust those projections