Thursday, April 14, 2016

Annoying White Noise

It has come to this: If you sat in front of your television set for 10 straight hours (God forbid!) you would be bombarded with roughly three hours of commercials.

In the earlier days of television, commercials offered time to grab a cold one from the fridge. These days, commercial breaks are so long that you have time to go to the beer store. If they get much longer, you’ll have time to brew your own.

In 1960 a typical hour-long show provided 51 minutes of entertainment. Nine minutes out of the hour were set aside for advertisement. Today an average hour of television provides 42 minutes of entertainment and 18 minutes of commercials.

On some channels, notably the so-called super channels such as AMC and Peach, a movie that runs 1:40 to 1:45 lasts three hours because of the commercials. That’s a mind-numbing lot of commercial viewing for anyone tuning into the trillionth broadcast of The Bourne Identity.

To people with calm personalities, TV commercials have become white noise to which they give scant attention. It’s simply there in the background. For the A personalities among us, TV commercials are an enemy that must be eliminated by any means.

The battles against TV ads began with the remote control. When a commercial intruded, we changed channels to watch something else. That battle was lost when some evil ad executive figured out how to have commercials running on your favourite channels at the same time. Flip to another channel to escape a commercial interruption and you run smack into another.

Then came the PVR. Record your favourite program then fast forward through the ads. That was a partial solution to avoid commercial annoyance. However, you had to be quick and nimble with the remote to escape the full messages.

Streaming services such as Netflix are the latest escape from TV ads. So far Netflix is commercial free and available at a reasonable price.

There is no complete escape from TV advertising, however. Many people still want to watch news programs – local and from afar – which are increasingly cluttered with commercials.

ABC World News Tonight is one of the better news operations but its 30-minute broadcast drowns in commercials soon after the15-minute mark. Then viewers are bombarded with drug company pitches for everything from erectile dysfunction to anticoagulants and adult diapers.

Especially repulsive are TV commercials paid with our tax dollars. You know, the one about “if you’ve got pink eye,” or the bridge that magically lengthens to save the life of a guy because the Ontario government now has a pension scheme. Then there’s the Ontario Power Generation agency ad informing us that Ontario stopped using coal for power generation a couple of years ago.

Gee, it’s good to get that kind of information and to know that you are paying for it. For my part, I’d rather have those tax dollars back to help pay my Hydro One bill, which is becoming my largest living expense.

Low-intelligence commercials and fourth-rate programing are driving more viewers away from broadcast and cable TV in favour of streaming services and it’s hurting the TV industry. A study prepared for the Canadian Radio and Television Commission earlier this year predicted that without more revenue, nearly one-half of Canada’s local TV stations will go off the air in the next four years.

Rogers Media announced earlier this year plans to lay off 200 people. Last year it cut 110 jobs from its Omni television stations. Both Shaw and Bell television operations also have cut jobs.

Obviously advertising is necessary in our capitalistic system. Ads pay for the programs and staff to produce them. But must it be so intrusive, so annoying and so omnipresent?

Viewers want fewer commercials and less jamming of shorter ads into commercial slots. They are fed up with ad formats that have seen little innovation in 60 years.

TV networks are starting to get the message. They need to do much work, however, on producing fewer commercials that are less annoying, more intelligent, and which provide viewers really useful information.


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