Tuning In: Mayhem and Murder, Brought to You By ...

Brian Steinberg on the TV Season and the Future of the Industry

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Awkward moments in advertising: Ads and TV shows seem to go together like Mom and apple pie. A program segment ends, the ads begin, and harmony ensues. The last week, however, has seen two intriguing cases where the ads clash with the content they support in a strange way.

Gross-out moments and violent outbursts certainly entertain, but do they sell?
Gross-out moments and violent outbursts certainly entertain, but do they sell? Credit: ABC
Case in point: Last week's episode of "Grey's Anatomy" featured a nauseating scene in which the intrepid surgeons of Seattle Grace plucked out a tangle of worms and surrounding liquid from a patient, then dumped the mess in a plastic container. Cut to the ad break, where the first commercial's initial scene was that of a young tyke gulping down a bottle of PediaSure Sidekicks, a product distributed by Abbott Laboratories. The leap from the image of the worm-filled canister to the scene of the kid slurping down liquid made this viewer envision the worms sliding down the kid's gullet.

Clearly, that wasn't the intended effect. Nor was this strange juxtaposition: In the final moments of a program segment on last week's "Chase" on NBC, a deranged woman kills a man by shooting two holes in his torso in front of a young girl. Next up: a sunny commercial from Mattel's Fisher-Price. The viewer moves from the image of a young toddler watching murder to one suggesting consumers buy a kid toys.

Marketers constantly strive to place their ads in the show that will best reach their target audience. But context and environment also play a role in a commercial's success. Gross-out moments and violent outbursts certainly entertain -- but the other question ad-supported media need to ask is, "Do they sell?"


Cable battle goes online: You're no doubt sick of hearing about the ongoing media fracas between News Corp. and Cablevision, but here's one battlefront to which you might pay heed. The New York Times sketches out the manifold issues that have come into play after News Corp.'s Fox briefly blocked Cablevision subscribers from seeing Fox shows on the video-sharing site Hulu and other places. It's a fascinating study in the many ways consumers are getting their content and the logistical and legal issues behind those emerging habits. With more knock-out fights expected to flare up between media-content companies and content-distributors, this sort of stuff could take on more prominence.

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Tuning In is an ongoing series of commentaries by Ad Age TV Editor Brian Steinberg on the TV schedule, the ads it carries and changes within the industry. Follow him on Twitter.

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