MediaRadar Blog

Are TV commercials really getting shorter?

Are TV commercials really getting shorter?

One of our takeaways from the TV upfronts a few weeks ago was that broadcasters are reducing ad load in the face of digital competition.

Streaming and on-demand media with skippable, short ads mean that traditional broadcasters are searching for new ways to add value to their offerings. Turner, Viacom, NBCUniversal and Fox have all made announcements regarding their reduction in ad load.

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“Whether it’s brands shifting from print to digital, or from direct to addressable, or vice versa, the industry is always shifting, often in ways that are difficult to forecast. Among the madness, however, television advertising has remained a consistent go-to for brands near the top of the economic food chain.”


~ A Year in Television: MediaRadar’s Overview of TV Advertising in 2018 and 2019

Words are one thing, but are TV commercials really getting shorter as promised?

Our data says yes.

MediaRadar Insight: Yes, TV Commercials Really Are Getting Shorter

MediaRadar’s recent trend report on TV advertising in 2018 and 2019 focused on comparing ad spend and trends from Q2 of 2018 through Q1 of 2019.

Outside of identifying TV’s top advertisers and new advertisers, the report identified one of the biggest takeaways as TV ads continuing to get shorter.

When looking at Q1 of 2019 versus Q1 of 2018, MediaRadar found that the average length of TV ads continues to go down, dropping 8 percent year-over-year. The trend is consistent with a few different mediums (such as YouTube).

In that same timespan, traditional broadcasting saw an 18 percent increase in the number of TV ads with a run-time of 15 seconds or less. These ads now make up just over 55 percent of all television ads, and the 15-second ad still remains by far the most popular ad length.

Furthermore, the 6-second ad, originally made famous by platforms like Snapchat and YouTube, saw a 36 percent YoY increase, though due to its young age still makes up less than 1 percent of all TV ads.

“To maintain revenue while trimming ads, networks must raise prices on the remaining spots,” writes Jeanine Poggi at AdAge. “Less commercial clutter seems like it should make ads more effective (and reduce the chance that viewers change the channel during breaks), but how much that’s worth is in debate.”

With the effectiveness of shorter ads still up for debate, what’s driving this shift?

Behind the Trend: Personal Primetime

The convergence of TV’s upfronts week and NewFronts (for digital media) makes the move toward shorter and fewer ads clear. Traditional broadcasting now has to compete with a format that puts short, skippable and personalized ads front and center.

If you weren’t convinced before, YouTube’s new Personal Primetime crystalizes the connection. “We can deliver personalized media in a way we never could before,” YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said at NewFronts.

Stephen Battaglio at The Los Angeles Times writes that the shorter ad formats in broadcast TV are networks’ way of avoiding viewers to commercial free, over-the-top television.

“The broadcast and cable networks that took in $19.7 billion in revenue for advanced sales of commercial time last year don’t want to see that happen,” writes Battaglio. “Many of the major entertainment cable networks have experienced double-digit declines as video content gets consumed to a greater degree on digital platforms… Airing fewer commercials could help reverse that trend.”

Is it a strategic move or a natural progression? Either way, broadcasters going in this direction will lead to fewer ads and shorter ads.

“[Digital] is just a better environment with a lighter ad load. We had to be honest with ourselves and say, ‘Knowing that, how do we figure out a way to make TV more like digital?’ We’re talking about something that has never been done before. You’ll be able to see one or two spots in the first 24 minutes of ‘This is Us,’ the No. 1 drama on TV.”


~ Mark Marshall, executive vice president for entertainment advertising sales, NBCUniversal

Networks are also offering less ads on the streaming platforms associated with their content — one episode of NBC’s “This is Us” has just seven minutes of ads, for example.

Whether or not the new ad format for linear TV works remains to be seen. But the shorter ads do seem to be driven by consumer demand, which points to a win/win scenario — as long as broadcasters can keep ad sales revenue up.