ABC to cut commercial time for premieres of new series

With eight comedies and dramas premiering this fall -- seven of them in the next few weeks -- Walt Disney Co.'s ABC is making the unusual move of reducing the number of commercials in the premiere episodes of its new shows.

Although that may seem an odd decision in a tough economy when networks are scrambling for every advertising dollar they can get, they are also fighting to hold on to every viewer. ABC hopes that fewer ads will prevent people from switching the channel to a rival network.

The network is eliminating the first commercial break -- which typically occurs about eight minutes into an episode for comedies -- from new prime-time series, including “Cougar Town,” “Modern Family” and “The Middle.”

“You hope the longer you keep them at the start of the show, the more likely they are to stick to it,” said Jeff Bader, ABC Entertainment’s executive vice president and scheduling chief.


That also means more content as well. The story lines of comedies will be about three minutes longer, and those for the dramas may be as much as five minutes longer than they are normally. The opening of the dramas could run as long as 15 minutes before their first commercial. “FlashForward,” ABC’s big bet for the fall, may have an opening as long as 18 minutes.

At one point, ABC even toyed with the idea of premiering the episode without any commercials. But the network thought finding a single advertiser to foot the “brought to you by” sponsorship bill would be too challenging in the current economy.

Reducing the number of commercials in hopes of maintaining an audience is not unheard of in television. Fox last season reduced the commercial load in its dramas “Fringe” and “Dollhouse,” but has since dropped the practice.

Cable networks such as TNT often run movies for almost 20 minutes before the first commercial appears. The difference is the cable network usually makes up for the absence of commercials in the front end with longer commercial breaks later in a program. ABC’s Bader promised that there were not going to be “excruciatingly long commercial breaks” to make up for missing commercials earlier in the programs.