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How Pepsi and Nike destroyed western culture

CommercialsVariety television columnist Brian Lowry recently wrote an excellent commentary about commercials cutting into story on network television that should not be missed. I agree with his point so strongly that it I previously made it #1 on my list of Top Ten Problems with Television. I believe Lowry is correct to highlight how the effect is especially damaging to sitcoms, and to imply that the current downtrend it sitcom programming may find at least some of its cause in overabundance of commercials.Networks, the first one of you to cut the time given over to commercials will suddenly see a massive rush of viewers to your programming. You can then charge a premium for your commercials and product placement, satisfying both your audience AND the ever-growing corporations that are now your masters. It’ll work, I promise! Please try?

29. September 2007 by DigitalDeron
Categories: Entertainment Industry | Tags: , ,

Comments (9)

  1. That link to the Variety article requires a subscription.

    However, even though I haven’t read the article, I agree with the premise. I remember way back when, in my youth, when there was only 7 minutes of commercials allowed per hour of television. IIRC, that was mandated by the FCC. Somehow or other, perhaps in the name of deregulation, those limits were lifted, and now we have about 18 minutes of commercials for one hour of programming — resulting in just about 40 minutes of actual dramatic programming if you account for 30 seconds of opening and closing credits. For a sitcom, it’s on the order of just under 20 minutes. It takes exceptionally good and tight storytelling to get a satisfying dramatic storyline across in this short of time. It helps if the story is paced quickly, and the dialog moves fast. Unfortunately, if that’s what has to happen in order to tell a complex story, you leave half your audience behind, because they can’t follow such fast moving events. So…on the one hand, hour-long dramas get more complex and move the story along much more quickly. But half hour long stories (i.e. sitcoms) get dumber.

    That’s my theory anyway. (I really wish I could read that article!)

    If the television industry doesn’t think that this will slowly erode their audience, they should take a look at radio. It’s unreal how many minutes of ads are broadcast on radio — especially at the morning and afternoon drive times. And…radio is slowly losing its overall audience. (Granted, that’s not the only reason. Surely the limited and too rigid formats, and the plethora of witless morning show DJs also contribute to driving listeners away.) Listeners either get satellite radio, or MP3 players because they don’t want to hear so many ads all the time. There’s a limit to how many ads even the dullest of people will put up with.

    But things won’t change in the TV industry, mostly because it operates with a herd mentality.

  2. Your theory that “the first one to cut the time given over to commercials will suddenly see a massive rush of viewers” is patently naive, no? I mean, wouldn’t you think the first cell phone company not to suck would get a rush of new customers? Or the first movie theatre to stop playing so many freakin’ previews?

    But, as consumers, we suck. We would not stop watching CSI en masse if there were 30 more seconds of commercials or three more “bottom-third swooshes” (or whatever they’re called). It’s the business model and it’s kind of broken, so if we want the TV we can either (a) watch it, or (b) Tivo it, or (c) wait and get it on DVD. If you want no commercials, fork over the $12 and get HBO.

  3. By all means, I am nothing if not naive.

    But yes, I do think there is a breaking point on what we’ll endure from our entertainment. People have, after all, stopped watching sitcoms. Is it because the art form suddenly became passé? Or did something fundamental occur to hurt their quality? I’m thinking sitcoms are the canary in the coal mine.

    And yes, if a cell phone company came along and managed to not suck, I and everyone I know would happily transfer. That is, as soon as we get out of our ridiculous contract with our current least-of-several-evils provider.

  4. Perhaps sitcoms aren’t the canary in the coal mine, but rather an art form that is past its prime. Like opera. Or painting.

    So new metaphor: instead of the canary in the coal mine, sitcoms are a reminder that we’re still digging for coal when it would be much smarter to harvest wind or solar power.

  5. Ah but here in there lies the problem, Networks are in the business of selling commercial space and the programing is secondary! They will always work to the least common denominator, so if the viewing public are willing to watch crap then they will slot in some crap in between their very important commercials!!!

  6. I can’t believe that laughter has become passe. As long as people need a laugh after the workplace grind, there’ll be a place for sitcoms. Indeed, I remember a decade or so ago everyone went around saying that sitcoms have gone the way of serial westerns and we’re unlikely to see them again. Along comes The Bill Cosby Show, and the whole genre rose from the dead, and we had another decade of pretty decent sitcoms.

    There’s no denying that for some reason the current slate of sitcoms are unfunny. People are seeking reasons why that might be. But that doesn’t mean the genre is dead. Every once in a while one sees a funny one, usually a British import on BBC America (Black Books, say), or maybe on a cable channel (i.e. Minor Accomplishments of Jackie), and you realize that people still know how to make a funny sitcom. The networks just don’t know how to find one.

    By the way, opera is not a dead art form. Opera performances in this country are being attended by larger audiences than ever before. (Symphonic orchestras, on the other hand, are seeing their audiences dwindle.) Unfortunately, opera doesn’t translate at all on the screen or the airwaves; it has to be seen live and in person to be appreciated, so unless you live near a large city with an active Opera company, you’re unlikely to ever see what makes them so magical. And…even IF opera were to be languishing in this country, which it ain’t, it certainly is popular in Europe. Whether you give two shits about Europe or not is immaterial, the point is, opera is far from dead.

  7. Grapeshot, perhaps three-camera sitcoms will rise again, and I concede that there has been an ebb and flow in its 50-year history.

    But arguing that opera is not “past its prime”? Not even the huge opera fans (and writers of opera) that I know would argue that opera is kicking with much vitality. A remarkable percentage of every opera company’s budget is subsidized by wealthy donors (including the Met, Santa Fe, San Francisco, etc.)… every opera company I’ve ever heard of is not-for-profit. And what’s the last new opera to enter the canon? Aside from the small, new operas (that remain largely ignored), is opera as an art form remain relevant? Does it ask questions? Does it reflect society? How can it? It’s 150 years old!

    To make a comparison, would you say that TV were alive and kicking if, in 50 years, not a single new TV show had become a hit, and all we were doing was sitting around and watching re-runs of Cheers?

    And I won’t argue that opera can’t be magical. But I will insist that as “art form” it neither reflects life nor comments on it very often. And that’s what makes an art form alive to me.

  8. I’ll grant that opera is not a POPULAR art form but new operas are written every few years AND get premiered. Sure, it’s not a high volume business, but that doesn’t mean it’s dead either.

    Performances by opera companies in every city are always sold out, and between the income from sellout performances and private donations, opera companies around the world are healthier than they’ve ever been. The presence of subsidies does not mean that an art form is dead. Even without the subsidies, operas would still be performed. If you had ever been bitten by the opera bug, you would still attend, even if performances happened with less frequency and at a higher cost. National Public Radio is 100% financed by public subsidies and private donations, yet 20 million people listen to their newscasts, so subsidies in and of themselves do not signify the death of something.

    As for the age of some of the works, how would that indicate the death of the art form? Plays have been around for over a millenia, and yet stage productions are not dead. Shakespeares collected works are older than any opera, and yet people still attend a new production of one of his plays.

    I think that what you are actually trying to say is that because opera isn’t popular with the masses that therefore it must be dead. But based on that criteria, opera was never alive, either. Opera – in this country – always had a limited appeal. I can’t argue that opera doesn’t require a rarified taste, and it is generally only available in major cities, and in most places in this country, performances are done only a few days out of the year. It most certainly doesn’t qualify under the heading of “Mass Media” – but then, it never did. But just because it ain’t for the masses doesn’t mean it’s dead.

    However, a lot of the same stuff could also be said about pro wrestling. It isn’t very old, but it sure hasn’t changed much since its inception. And without the subsidy offered by a couple of basic cable channels, its audience, which is pretty small, would be even smaller.

    Opera ain’t dead, anymore than pro wrestling is. Both have relatively small appeal compared to the larger population. However, both have avid afficianados, and both have performances the continue to be presented every year.

  9. I also should add that the relatively poor health of the Met needs to be contrasted with the plethora of much smaller opera companies that exist in every state. The Met isn’t doing so well, but these smaller opera houses are doing boffo box office.

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