I am coming up on my seventieth birthday. I’ve seen my share of commercials and I have had a chance to draw a few conclusions. In my youth, most TV shows were a half hour. That meant about 26 or 27 minutes of program and 2 or three minutes of commercials. Nowadays, it’s about forty minutes of program and twenty minutes of commercials.
Though the program takes up double the time, the actual program time isn’t even fifteen minutes longer. If this keeps up, the commercial content will soon exceed the program content.
In the old days, we would have to hurry to step out to the kitchen and return with a sandwich before the program started. Soon, I will be able to return with a 3 course meal. I might even have time to finish eating it too.
I understand production costs have increased. The stations are now broadcasting in color and stereo sound. The images are larger and sharper which requires much more sophisticated equipment. Yet, the cost of such equipment has plummeted. The effective cost of equipment might have doubled, though I doubt it. It does not justify the additional advertising.
There are, of course, many other costs to consider. The payroll for the casts has certainly skyrocketed…to the degree that producers would prefer giving out large value prizes to contestants over paying a cast of half a dozen actors in a series.
The audiences were much smaller when I was a child. I don’t know the exact differences over the years, but in my lifetime, the US population has gone from less than 50 million to over 350 million. Back then, we didn’t all have TV’s. Now each house has two or three. Maybe the casts of the programs are a little greedy. I don’t know. I suppose some of the blame can go to the producers.
It isn’t just that the commercials are longer, they are also more annoying. In general they have but two aims. They want to get our attention and they want us to remember their name. They will go to any extreme to do this. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Stupid plots
- Horrible noises
- Minimum clothing
They also resort to another trick. They reduce the volume of the program material. For quite a while people complained to the FCC about stations increasing volume during commercials. The stations countered that the FCC does not allow the volume to go beyond certain limits.
What they say is true. Having a background in electronics, I am well aware that stations can be fined for allowing the audio to exceed proper levels. However, this does not stop the stations from decreasing the volume during the program. It has the same effect. I turn the volume on my TV up to hear the program, and then I must turn it down during commercials.
Commercials have also become nearly R rated. Continually, they push the limit so that year by year, it gets worse. When I was a child, no one had to explain why two naked people were sitting in matching bath tubs… outside. It would be bad enough if they limited such commercials to non-family time programing, but they put the things right in the middle of the day.
Finally, one thing I have noticed about commercials is that they claim that their product weakness is its strength. I know that is not worded well, but you will understand after a few examples.
- Exxon advertises safe ships… after the Valdese incidence.
- BP claims safe drilling practices… after their drilling rig caught fire.
- Wells Fargo Bank advertises honesty and integrity.
- All three main TV broadcasting news networks advertise news. (actually propaganda)
We do, of course have countermeasures to all these changes. Before I go through them, let me state that I would not resort to such measure if I wasn’t being pushed to it. However, as the commercials become worse, I must resort to some methods to fight back.
First, most of us now have some means of recording programing. This is kind of neat. It saves time. I can watch a one hour program in about forty minutes. Moreover, I can skip those parts of the program that boarder on R rating. I have found that such parts rarely add anything substantial to the plot and it saves time when I skip them.
By using the fast forward, it basically negates all of the problems of the commercials. I don’t have to re-adjust the volume and there is no need to explain matching bathtubs. Most of all, it sends a signal to all those advertisers that their methods have no effect on me.
In some cases, you might want to watch something live, such as a football or baseball game. In such cases, I push the pause button at the start of the ad. Then I wait a minute or two and fast forward over the commercials. In most cases, I need to repeat the process, but I find it well worthwhile. (That will make the Super Bowl advertisers happy.)
On some occasions, I do like to push play and watch the commercials. (As when they show the running with the bulldogs. I really like that one.) When the desired commercial is over, I press fast-forward again.
Of course, there is always the mute button, but this does have a little disadvantage. You must watch the advertisements to tell when they are over. It is always possible to remember that most advertisements are sold in fifteen second slots. Moreover, most commercial breaks are at least two minutes.
This means that you can walk off and do other things after you’ve muted the TV. In the event that you miss a little program material, you can rewind a little. If you can’t, it’s likely no big deal. There isn’t much on TV these days anyway.