tyler butler

Commercials Suck

This article, titled “Give Us a Commercial Break!” from the Wall Street Journal is way off the mark in my opinion. The article states that TV shows are written with commercials in mind and that watching them without commercials changes them. That in and of itself I can’t argue with. But I do take issue with the implication that this is uniformly bad.

There are two core arguments in the article:

  1. TV shows are written with commercials specifically in mind, and removing them completely interrupts the pacing of the show.
  2. Viewers actually like shows with ads better.

For argument number one, it’s obvious that writers take commercial breaks into consideration when writing TV shows. However, in their DVD counterparts, the breaks are preserved as scene changes. These can seem rather abrupt, and I think this points to an alternative solution: slightly longer breaks for scene changes that are replacing commercial breaks. If we assume the normal scene change is a second, then imagine that the commercial-break-replacement scene change is three seconds. You can simulate this suggestion by hitting pause for three seconds – I think you’ll be surprised at the results. I think you’ll agree that this is uniformly better than ads.

For argument number two, I can’t refute the research. But there is a quote from the article that is completely asinine in my opinion:

From an audience member’s perspective, they are what makes network television social. We use the commercial breaks to talk amongst ourselves, to take bets on the J.D./Elliot situation and to decide that no one ever really dies on “Lost.”

Say what? That we need commercial breaks to be social is ridiculous. In this day and age, we have ready access to the Pause button, and it’s a far more useful tool for fostering discussion while watching TV. Elizabeth and I have been watching quite a few documentaries lately, and we pause quite often to talk about whether or not we agree with what’s being said. I agree that adding discussion and dialog while viewing a show is positive (there’s a reason fans get together to watch episodes of their favorite shows), but I think people use the commercial breaks because they’re there, not because they need them in order to have that conversation successfully.

I hate ads in all forms (though I can appreciate particularly clever or well- done ones), so I am definitely biased here. But seriously… there’s a reason DVD copies of shows sell so well, and it isn’t because people are dying to own season one of “Scrubs” for eternity…