Thursday, April 05, 2007

This Is Network TV, This Is Network TV On Drugs

This Is Network TV, This Is Network TV On Drugs: Data Reveals Fewer, Longer Spots
by Joe Mandese, Thursday, Apr 5, 2007 8:00 AM ET
AFTER YEARS OF STEADILY INCREASING their supply of TV commercials, the major broadcast networks have suddenly begun reducing the number of spots they air. Explanations abound for the sudden downturn abound, but the chief culprit may be drugs. Not people using them, but people advertising them. In 2006, the networks carried 11,546 spots during prime-time, 196 units, or nearly 2% fewer than they aired during 2005, and nearly 7% fewer than they broadcast in 2004, according to the network commercial trends section of Nielsen's annual Television Audience Report.

But in a corresponding trend that might at first glance seem to defy the laws of advertising physics, the networks actually aired more commercial advertising time. They aired 5,429 minutes of prime-time commercials during 2006, up more than 2% from 2005, and more than 3% from 2004. The reason: The networks have been running fewer total commercials, but more longer format commercials each year.

The percentage of 30-second commercials aired by the major broadcast networks declined to 57% in 2006 from 58% in 2005 and 59% in 2004, while the share of 15-second commercials declined to 33% in 2006 from 35% in 2005 and 37% in 2004, according to the Nielsen data. During the same period, the number of 60-second commercials jumped to 8% of network prime-time TV in 2006, from only 5% in 2005 and 3% in 2004.

The Nielsen data shows a similar pattern for network daytime TV, and at first glance it might seem like the networks have intentionally cut back on the number of commercial messages they air to reduce overall advertising clutter, but some knowledgeable observers say it has less to do with improving their viewing environment and more to do with boosting their bottom line. The networks are simply taking more ads from a category - direct-to-consumer prescription drug ads - that require longer TV commercial lengths to inform consumers about side-effects and mandatory disclaimers, explains Jon Swallen, senior vice president-director of research at TNS Media Intelligence.

The phenomenon is concentrated in one specific product category. The story is, 'Look what DTC pharma advertisers are doing.' The story is not, 'Look what prime-time advertisers are doing.'" he says.

According to Swallen's analysis of TNS MI's commercial tracking data, the mix of network prime-time commercial messages for DTC brands has "decidedly shifted" in the past year, with 60-second commercials now accounting for 74% of all prescription drug ads on television, up from 41% in 2003. During the same period, the percentage of 30-second spots aired by prescription drug marketers declined from 29% in 2003 to 13% in 2006.

"Why the big shift in 2006? Well it was about a year ago that drug companies announced a voluntary code of conduct with regards to consumer marketing, in response to public criticism and the threat of government regulation," Swallen explains. "One of the key guidelines was to provide more information about risks and alternative courses of treatment. The companies have followed through on this pledge. For example, pay close attention to a print or TV spot for a cholesterol drug and you'll likely see/hear mentions of exercise, diet and lifestyle as alternatives to a drug regimen. That stuff wasn't there pre-2006. These deeper levels of information are driving the marked shift towards longer length TV spots."

Joe Mandese is Editor of MediaPost.

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