It’s time to challenge TVC duration lengths in Australia

With TV audiences dropping off massively during ad breaks, PHD's Lucy Formosa Morgan argues the case for reduced TVC durations and shorter breaks.

Since YouTube launched six-second bumper ads some 18 months ago, more and more digital publishers are now starting to adopt the shorter video format.

The question remains though: should they be limited to just digital? TV networks have always offered 15-second and 30-second durations and multiples thereof, but is that really the best way forward given the changing way we consume media today?

It’s a common assumption that consumers’ attention spans are shrinking (rightly or wrongly), so isn’t it time we re-evaluated TVC durations?

Let’s look at the drop off between programming and ad breaks; on average, audiences drop between 10-20% once a programme goes into an ad break. That’s a huge drop in ratings, particularly when we have to buy spots using quarter hour data – which factors in programme ratings as well as ad break data – and then post analyse the results minute by minute – but that’s a discussion for another day.

At the Future of TV Advertising conference in Sydney earlier this year, there was a fair bit of chatter amongst agency heads and networks about reducing the amount of ad loading, and therefore, commercial minutage to “keep people within an ad funded environment” and provide a better, less cluttered experience for viewers and advertisers. With reduced content, you would have to assume the networks would charge a premium.

In a heavily audited market, every network would have to follow suit, otherwise you’re going to have one or two networks charging a premium and being far less efficient than the others.

SBS and Foxtel already operate with less commercial minutage for legislative reasons, but they’re not charging premiums for it. Would they then reduce their minutage further or just fall in line with the others?

Would it not be better to change the model for key shows/specials only? For example, reduce commercial content in special events only (Seven tried this with Spartan, but unfortunately the show didn’t live up to the test) while also testing shorter ad formats (e.g. six-second bumpers).

Live sport would be a perfect opportunity for bumpers to minimise viewer angst when the networks cut to an ad break after a wicket or goal. My money would be on higher viewer engagement with bumper ads compared to 30 or 60-second ad breaks.

Ad formats are already shrinking

With TV budgets under increasing pressure from digital, and TV audiences continuing to decline (driving up CPMs), advertisers are having to rely more heavily on shorter spots to make their money work harder for them.

Currently, if you want to run shorter durations, e.g. five-second spots, you have to run three five-second spots to make up a 15-second spot within the ad break.

Clients are already adapting their video content for six-second YouTube ads, so the format and precedent is there.

I’m sure there’ll be push back from some about how can you get your message across in six seconds, but just look at movie houses. They’re experts at showcasing their content via a short trailer, grabbing viewers’ attention right from the first second, giving you a taster of what’s to come while at the same time, getting across a call to action. Other advertisers are already starting to follow suit.

We need to start challenging and testing the TV model from all angles. Reduced minutage is one side of the equation, but let’s look at shorter format sizes too. Just because the model worked 60-something years ago doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right way anymore.

Lucy Formosa Morgan is chief investment officer at PHD Australia.


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