TV networks load up on commercials

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The number of commercials in the typical hour of television has grown steadily during the last five years, according to a new study from the ratings measurement firm Nielsen.

The rise in commercials can be attributed to two factors: Broadcast and cable networks are allotting more time for commercials, and advertisers are increasingly using shorter spots to hawk their products.

In 2009, the broadcast networks averaged 13 minutes and 25 seconds of commercial time per hour. In 2013, that figure grew to 14 minutes and 15 seconds.


The growth has been even more significant on cable television. In 2009, cable networks averaged 14 minutes and 27 seconds per hour. Last year, the average was 15 minutes and 38 seconds.

At the same time, the number of 30-second commercials has declined while 15-second spots have increased. Not only is more time being devoted to ads, but more spots are being jammed into commercial breaks.

In 2009, 30-second spots accounted for 62% of all ads on television; 15-second spots were just 35%. In 2013, the percentage of 30-second ads fell to 53% and 15-second spots increased to 44%.

The increased number of commercials has translated to more money flowing into television. According to Nielsen, advertisers spent $78 billion on TV commercials in 2013, compared to $64 billion in 2009.

However, the cost of a typical 30-second spot in prime time has declined. In 2013, the average cost for a commercial was $7,800. In 2009, the figure was $8,900.

The rise in commercials likely will concern some marketers who fear their spots are being lost in all the ad clutter. Also, as more viewers embrace digital video recorders, many of those ads are being lost to the fast-forward button.


Nielsen’s study comes the same week the big broadcast networks start unveiling their fall schedules to advertisers.

Several major cable networks including ESPN and USA also will pitch advertisers this week.

Once the presentations are done, advertisers and networks will start to negotiate deals. The process is known as the upfront market because commercial inventory is sold in advance of the new TV season.

Nielsen’s report also revealed that Thursday -- often seen as a crucial night for advertisers, particularly auto manufacturers and movie studios -- is now just the fifth-most-watched night of television.

An average of 112 million people watch TV on Thursday night, compared to 125 million on Sunday and 120 million on Monday. Tuesday and Wednesday also have more viewers than Thursday.

Much of Nielsen’s study is devoted to audience fragmentation. Not only are cable networks, Netflix and other competitors giving consumers more options to choose from, but technology makes it easier for viewers to watch TV on their own schedules.

Besides DVRs, many viewers are also embracing video-on-demand. Networks are making more content available on VOD. Those offerings typically include commercials and fast-forwarding is disabled. TV networks are also putting their shows online.


All these changing habits in media consumption don’t have to be a negative for advertisers, Nielsen said.

“The ever-increasing range of media channels available for viewer consumption has allowed marketers to connect with consumers in new ways and opened the minds of intended audiences to embracing new mediums for receiving information about goods and services,” the study said.

Yet for all these new choices, most viewers are loyal to just a few channels. Last year, the typical home had 189 channels to choose from yet only watched 17.5 on a regular basis. That figure is the same as in 2009, when the average home received 129 channels.