Monday, June 26, 2006

TV Commercials - more information

Frequency and length
TV commercials appear between shows, but also interrupt the shows at intervals. This method of screening commercials is intended to capture or grab the attention of the audience, keeping the viewers focused on the television show so that they will not want to change the channel; instead, they will (hopefully) watch the commercials while waiting for the next segment of the show. This is a technique of adding suspense, especially if the break occurs at a cliffhanger moment in the show.

Entire industries exist that focus solely on the task of keeping the viewing audience interested enough to sit through commercials. The Nielsen ratings system exists as a way for stations to determine how successful their television shows are, so that they can decide what rates to charge advertisers for their commercial airtime.

Commercials take airtime away from programs. In the 1960s a typical hour-long American show would run for 51 minutes excluding commercials. Today, a similar program would only be 42 minutes long; a typical 30-minute block of time includes 22 minutes of programming with 6 minutes of national advertising and 2 minutes of local (although some half-hour blocks may have as much as 12 minutes of commercials).

In other words, over the course of 10 hours, American viewers will see approximately an hour and a half more commercials than they did in the sixties. Furthermore, if that sixties show is rerun today it may be cut by 9 minutes to make room for the extra commercials.

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, the average length of a television commercial was one minute. As the years passed, the average length shrank to 30 seconds (and often 10 seconds, depending on the television station's purchase of ad time). However, today a majority of commercials run in 15-second increments (often known as "hooks").


Popularity
In the United States, the TV commercial is generally considered the most effective mass-market advertising format, and this is reflected by the high prices TV networks charge for commercial airtime during popular TV events. The annual Super Bowl football game is known as much for its commercial advertisements as for the game itself, and the average cost of a single thirty-second TV spot during this game has reached $2.5 million (as of February 2006).

Because a single television commercial can be broadcast repeatedly over the course of weeks, months, and even years (the Tootsie Roll company has been airing a famous commercial that asks "How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?" for over three decades), television commercial production studios often spend enormous sums of money in the production of one single thirty-second television spot. This vast expenditure has resulted in a number of high-quality commercials, ones which boast of the best production values, the latest in special effects technology, the most popular personalities, and the best music. A number of television commercials are so elaborately produced that they can be considered miniature sixty-second movies; indeed, many film directors have directed television commercials both as a way to gain exposure and to earn a paycheck. One of film director Ridley Scott's most famous cinematic moments was a television commercial he directed for the Apple Macintosh computer, that aired in 1984. Even though this commercial was aired only once (aside from occasional appearances in television commercial compilation specials), it has become famous and well-known, to the point where it is considered a classic television moment.

Despite the popularity of some commercials, most are considered to be an annoyance for a number of reasons. The main reason is that the volume of commercials tends to be higher (and in some cases much higher) than that of regular programming, due to the compression rate of the commercials. The increasing number and length of commercials, as well as commercials for the same product being played back-to-back, is a secondary annoyance factor. A third might be the increasing ability to advertise on television, prompting everyone from cell-phone companies and fast food restaraunts to local businesses and small businesses. The latter two have a smaller budget, so the quality is often lower and contains many advertising clich├ęs.

Are commercials also programming?
Since the 1960s, media critics have claimed that the boundaries between "programming" and "commercials" have been eroded to the point where the line is blurred nearly as much as it was during the beginnings of the medium.

In 1973 the FCC decided to define the boundary, especially for children's programming. Since pre-school and school-age children generally have a hard time telling the difference between a commercial and an actual program, the television networks (except commercial-free PBS) were required by the FCC to put explicit bumpers during periods of children's programming and the 7:00 p.m./6:00 p.m. Central Sunday time period ("We'll return after these messages", "Now back to our program") in order for the young viewers to understand when a commercial break was beginning or ending. The only programs that were exempt from this rule were news shows and information shows relating to news (such as 60 Minutes). Conditions on children's programming have eased a bit since the period of the 1970s and 19

TV commercials outside the United States

Europe
In many European countries television commercials appear in longer, but less frequent advertising breaks. For example, instead of 3 minutes every 8 minutes, there might be 6 or 7 minutes every half hour. Specific regulations differ widely from country to country and network to network.

United Kingdom
In the UK commercial television is not quite so relentlessly geared to the needs of the advertisers and there are fewer interruptions, as compared to the commercials in the United States. In addition, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is funded by a licence fee and does not screen adverts. Nevertheless, on the commercial channels, the amount of airtime allowed by the Independent Television Authority and its successors for advertising has risen from 7 minutes per hour in the 1970s to 12 minutes today. With 42-minute American exports to Britain, such as Lost, being given a one hour slot, nearly one third of the slot is taken up by advert.

Finland
In Finland, there are two non-commercial channels run by the state owned broadcasting company YLE, that run commercials only on very infrequent occasions, such as important sports events. The three main commercial channels MTV3, SubTV (a subsidiary of MTV3), and Nelonen ("Four" in Finnish), all run their commercials during breaks approximately every 15 minutes. A typical break lasts about 4 minutes. The length of individual commercials can vary from a few seconds (7,10 and 15 are common), but nowadays they are rarely over one minute in length.


Music
Prior to the 1980s music in television commercials was generally limited to jingles and incidental music; on some occasions lyrics to a popular song would be changed to create a theme song or a jingle for a particular product. In 1971 the converse occurred when a song written for a Coca-Cola commercial was re-recorded as the pop single "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" by the New Seekers, and became a hit. Some pop and rock songs were re-recorded by cover bands for use in commercials, but the cost of licensing original recordings for this purpose remained prohibitive until the late 1980s.

The use of previously-recorded popular songs in television commercials began in earnest in 1985 when Burger King used the original recording of Aretha Franklin's song "Freeway of Love" in a television advertisement for the restaurant. This also occurred in 1987 when Nike used the original recording of The Beatles' song "Revolution" in an advertisement for athletic shoes. Since then, many classic popular songs have been used in similar fashion. Songs can be used to concretely illustrate a point about the product being sold (such as Bob Seger's "Like a Rock" used for Chevy trucks), but more often are simply used to associate the good feelings listeners had for the song to the product on display. In some cases the original meaning of the song can be totally irrelevant or even completely opposite to the implication of the use in advertising; for example Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life", a song about heroin use addiction, has been used to advertise a cruise ship line. Music-licensing agreements with major artists, especially those which had not previously allowed their recordings to be used for this purpose, such as Microsoft's use of "Start Me Up" by the Rolling Stones and Apple Computers' use of U2's "Vertigo" became a source of publicity in themselves.

In early instances, songs were often used over the objections of the original artists, who had lost control of their music publishing the music of Beatles being perhaps the most well-known case; more recently artists have actively solicited use of their music in advertisements and songs have gained popularity and sales after being used in commercials. Famous case is Levi's company which has used several one hit wonders in their commercials (songs such as "Mr. Bombastic", "Inside", "Spaceman").

Sometimes a controversial reaction has followed the use of some particular song on a commercial. Often the trouble has been that people do not like the idea of using songs that promote values important for them in commercials. For example Sly and the Family Stone's anti-racism song, "Everyday People", was used in a car commercial which caused anger among people.

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