Besides covering this industry, I’m also a subscriber, and sometimes it’s interesting to look at things from both sides of the fence. So let’s talk ads for a minute.

Subs don’t like ads. (Surprise!) If we did, we’d just watch network TV. Instead, we either mute or change channels as soon as an ad comes on (unless it’s the Super Bowl, in which case the ads are better than the programming). Worse, changing channels to avoid an ad simply takes you to some other ad on the next channel—and the next, and the next, and the next after that. Small wonder Netflix is so popular.

Back in the ’70s and ’80s, there were few ads on cable, which was a large part of its appeal. Subs still remember those halcyon days, and many genuinely believe that paying a monthly cable bill should exempt them from being subjected to any ads.

Granted, ads are a necessary evil. Cable spent metric jillions of dollars in the late ’90s and early 2000s upgrading and buying each other’s systems, and now the stakeholders want to see a return on that staggering investment. Verizon and AT&T are in that same boat now.

Still, there’s got to be a better way to do it than to insert 3 minutes’ worth of ads per 10 minutes of program, on every channel at exactly the same times.

Possibilities

Some of the recent ad trials with video on demand (VOD) programming seem promising. With some of these, the ads are inserted at the front end, before the actual programming starts. That’s not a bad way to go. It won’t support the current volume of advertising, and it doesn’t help with regular programming, but at least it’s not disruptive.

Also promising is the slow but sure melding of Web and television. With its mantra of accountability, interactivity and addressability, Canoe Ventures seems to be heading in that direction. As long as cable operators tread lightly and make generous “opt-out” provisions, this could help.

Here’s another thing about the Web: Ads are constantly present, but shunted off to the periphery, out of the main picture. Now this is interesting.

Why can’t video ads be done the same way? Do a picture-in-picture type setup, with the actual video programming big and front and center, and then place ads around the edges. Most subs now’days have enormo-screen TVs anyway, so they wouldn’t be losing a lot of video real estate. The ads could get exposure for the duration of the programming rather than just 30-second spots, or you could rotate them out at intervals. The point is that you can run ads without interrupting the show every 7 minutes. There might even be possibilities with running old 4:3 programming on 16:9 aspect-ratio sets.

Time-shifted TV offers more promise. How about popping up an ad whenever the sub hits “pause” or “stop”? When he comes back from fetching another beer, he’ll at least see the ad for a few seconds before clicking “play,” and if it interests him, he may watch the whole thing. You could even run a string of ads back to back. If you must do targeted ads, this is the place for it—you already know where and who the sub is, and the particular program he’s time-shifted indicates his interests.

Challenges

Getting the advertisers to play ball could be tricky. Some of the mossybacks in that business won’t like it because it’s different, but the Web-savvy youngsters are searching for new models anyway. Old or young, advertisers know the present system is lame and that changing it would be a win for them as well.

There would also be technical challenges involved in implementing any of these notions. But the engineering community could make it happen if it were a priority. Advertising is in transition. But is it changing enough—and in ways that viewers will appreciate?

The Daily

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