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Commercials Are Dead. Long Live Commercials!

David Pogue has a column in the New York Times (website only) on channel-skipping using TiVo, ReplayTV, and other similar devices. He puts the problem succinctly:

If everybody has ad-skipping boxes, nobody will ever see the ads. Advertisers won’t pay the networks to show them -- and the networks will have no revenue. Presto: The end of TV as we know it.
So what to do about this? Pogue outlines four possible scenarios:
  1. Trick the video recorders.
  2. Embed the ads into the show.
  3. Pay TV.
  4. Make the ads so good, you want to watch them.
It's the last idea that has Pogue intrigued:
If the advertisers took it upon themselves to make their commercials irresistible -- better than the shows, even -- viewers would want to see them, no matter what ad-skipping features were available. The ads would get seen, the networks would get their revenue, consumers would be entertained. This is the ultimate win-win.

How am I so sure this would work? Because I know so many people who watch the Super Bowl just for the ads -- and fast-forward through the football.

Pogue is on the right track. Consider this:

  • The popular AdCritic.com, which once offered free downloads of commercials, was immensely popular until someone figured out that banner ads weren't exactly paying all the bandwidth bills. (Now it's back, but with an annual subscription fee of $69.95.)
  • Over the last couple of years, Apple has expanded its user base for QuickTime in large part by having the best selection of movie trailers on the Web. In other words, people are downloading their software (and paying for upgrades) to watch commercials.
Surely this can be exploited. My TiVo (or TiVo replacement) should be downloading commercials and movie trailers at night. If I watch them, I can give them the thumbs-up or thumbs-down, and the TiVo will learn what sorts of such content I like. My ratings are then pooled into a database so that I can see the most popular commercials and movie trailers. Over time, I can build up a small library of my favorite commercial content -- probably not more than an hour's worth or so, but that would be 30 trailers or up to 120 commercials: bite-sized bits of entertainment to be enjoyed whenever I like. Everyone wins.

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