Online TV Viewers Willing to Sit Through More Ads, Research Shows
To test consumer feedback, Turner fed different commercial formats to three randomized groups of visitors to the sites tbs.com and tnt.com. One group was fed a minute's worth of commercials throughout the course of each TV episode viewed online, a second group had to sit through eight to ten minutes of ads, and the third was exposed to 16-20 minutes. People who tuned in to 30-minute TV shows, on average, watched about 40-percent of the episodes when the ads lasted just one minute, and 37-percent of episodes when there were 16 minutes of commercials. Viewers watching hour-long episodes, meanwhile, watched an average of 59-percent of each episode with one minute and 15 seconds of ads, and, surprisingly enough, 49-percent of each episode with 20 minutes of ads.
Based on these results, Turner chief research officer Jack Wakshlag concluded that "people will spend approximately the same amount of time watching episodes online," regardless of how many ads they're fed. Part of the phenomenon can be attributed to the unique behavior of online TV viewers, who typically don't sit through any single episode for its entirety, but browse through different episodes as they would if they were watching a real TV. Strangely, though, viewers seem willing to absorb more commercials in the middle of online shows than they are during traditionally broadcast episodes.
These results, of course, are welcomed by many networks, who have been trying to introduce heavier ad loads on their online platforms. Nevertheless, some industry execs believe that consumers will be drawn to online platforms with fewer, but higher quality ads. Hulu, for example, proudly promotes the fact that its free shows have only a fourth of the ad load that traditional network broadcasts have, and claims that advertisers who buy up its limited ad space pay a premium.
A Hulu spokesman told the New York Times that its lighter approach to online commercials has "resulted in the advertising spots on Hulu being measured as at least 55-percent more effective than the same ads in traditional channels." Still, some viewers have noticed that the number of ads on the site has recently increased and, if Turner's research resonates with other broadcasters, that trend may extend to other online platforms, as well.