TV ads are good

TV ad

I’m one of those folks who DVR’s/Tivo’s everything to avoid commercials. I’ll even record live sports programming, and start watching it 30-45 minutes after it started. That way after skipping all the commercials I catch the end of the game as it’s happening live.

My younger brother thinks that’s crazy, at least in the case of basketball games. He says that the commercial breaks add to the drama and suspense.

According to the Journal of Consumer Research, my brother may have been on to something. Here’s the relevant part of the study’s summary:

Although consumers do not foresee it, their enjoyment diminishes over time. Commercial interruptions can disrupt this adaptation process and restore the intensity of consumers’ enjoyment. Six studies demonstrate that, although people preferred to avoid commercial interruptions, these interruptions actually made programs more enjoyable (study 1), regardless of the quality of the commercial (study 2), even when controlling for the mere presence of the ads (study 3), and regardless of the nature of the interruption (study 4). However, this effect was eliminated for people who are less likely to adapt (study 5) and for programs that do not lead to adaptation (study 6), confirming the disruption of adaptation account and identifying crucial boundaries of the effect.

Rob Horning of Pop Matters has a more digestible explanation:

The idea is that the commercials give viewers a pause to refresh their eagerness for the program when it resumes. In other words, the commercials break a program into smaller episodes, and these 11-minute chunks are what we consume. We can’t handle too long a stretch of the pleasure a show gives; we need to be brought back down off that How I Met Your Mother high with a few commercials, so we can enjoy the build-up of pleasure again. Otherwise, the shows reach a plateau at which they can no longer top themselves, and we grow bored, waiting for a bigger bang. Supposedly we are inherently dissatisfied, because we adapt over time to the pleasure being provided, and always demand one more unit of it.

But Mr. Horning thinks the casual relationship may be backwards. Perhaps commercial television and other modern forms of entertainment have stunted our attention spans to the point where we expect and now need a break every 10 minutes. He also submits that TV shows are produced for those 10 minute chunks and viewing them without the pauses isn’t optimal.

I’m interested to hear which theory you all believe, even if I’m not going to stop DVRing Carolina basketball games.

Flickr photo by be OH be


  1. Ted

    I’ve been thinking about this for a while now. I always thought that while watching LOST, the commercial breaks were a crucial part of the show as they allow you time to think about what just happened. often times, something unexpected happens right before the break and so you have to figure out what the hell it was and ponder its implications. other times it’s just something profound that was said, or something really strong and meaningful that you need a few moments to digest before the action picks up again. this is one reason I don’t like watching TV shows on DVD, because a lot of times the split-second cut to black where the commercial breaks used to be seems to disrupt the show’s overall timing and flow.

    regarding sports, I tend to agree with you Chris. I like fast-forwarding early through commercials and watching live for at least the last third of the game or so. something about knowing that’s it’s happening right now, and going with the real action and pauses, makes it a more exciting experience for me.

  2. Chris

    That’s a good point about shows like L O S T that have intricate plotlines. The decline of broadcast TV makes me wonder if writers will start catering more to the DVD experience.

    Another point that I left out of the article is the week to week pause between episodes. I really do think that helps with shows like Battlestar Galactica and L O S T where there is a lot to ponder and get excited about.

  3. Ian

    I think its a strange thing in television to make it so commercials are necessary. I have no issue when I go watch feature length films uninterrupted. I think its more likely that the television program format has forced the creators of these shows into making a product that is attention grabbing enough to make you pardon all the interruptions. Then you have to wonder, do we “naturally” prefer 11 minute chunks of entertainment, or has years of watching television in this format conditioned us to be unable to handle anything longer? I still vote “No” on commercials.

    Oh, The fact that you write it out like L O S T makes you a big dork, among other things.

  4. Chris

    Don’t hate.

  5. Andrea

    I think we need to have a BSG marathon to test your theories, Chris. And by “marathon” I mean more than three episodes.

  6. Chris

    That’s okay 🙂

    We’ll have a L O S T marathon instead.

  7. Ted

    I’ll claim responsibility for Chris’s accurate and awesome spelling of L O S T.

    Also yes, in the article it mentions how writers and producers create different storylines/arcs depending on the medium and whether they know they’ll have interruptions. So my point was that they’re doing things a certain way for L O S T (tv show) which makes it a little different to watch on DVD without the interruptions.

    It goes the other way too. when they put movies on TV. and for some reason they ALWAYS manage to cut to commercial at the worst time… and it almost makes you want to not continue watching after the break because all of the buildup and tension and awesomeness of the movie has just been drained, wrongly.

  8. Chris

    That’s a great point about movies on TV. It does seem that very few channels get it right.

    Actually, I wonder if channels get to decide where the breaks are, or if the movie studio decides when they sell the broadcast rights.