Commercial breaks - 'ad'ing value to business?

The best performing channel in India is also the most disciplined.

A recent study by Madison Advertising lauds Star Plus for having the shortest ad break lengths, giving advertisers the best value for money while rivals Zee and Sony falter on the ad break length owing to commercial compulsions. The study, undertaken to analyse how the audience behaves during TV ad breaks, has come out with some pertinent observations. The study's conclusions assume greater significance in view of the recent decision by both Zee and Sony to drop the system of selling commercial time based on anticipated or cost per rating point (CPRP).

Some highlights of the study -

  • Viewership of ads is lesser than that of the programme.
  • The extent of ad viewership is determined by the rating of the programme and not by the genre of the programme.
  • The higher the rating of the programme, the lower the drop in ad viewership.
  • Non C & S households and small town classes have higher ad viewership in comparison to C&S households and metros.
  • Recall of ads deteriorates with the length of the ad break. Star Plus has the shortest ad break length.
  • Corrector factor has been determined to calculate realistic CPRP benchmarks.


Using primary viewership data supplied by ORG Marg's INTAM, the study found that the last two ads in any break were the most advantageous from the advertisers' point of view as these are the most watched. People tend to 'shift out' of the programme with the commencement of the commercial break and also towards the end of the programme. The build up of audiences takes around three minutes and then a dip is observed at the commencement of the ad break. Ratings then build up after a programme restarts.


Position in break
High Rated Programmes
1st and 2nd ad
Middle ads
Last 2 ads

The data analysed establishes the relation between ratings size and media effectiveness. Consequently, says the report, higher rated programmes are worth higher CPRPs. The statistics show that high rated programmes kept 87 per cent of the programme audience through the ad, while a low rated programme kept only 65 per cent.

Interestingly, the report notes that drop in ad ratings is lesser for audience with no access to cable and satellite channels. The average drop for non C & S homes is eight to 10 per cent while it is in excess of 20 per cent for C & S homes, necessitating differential media weights to be fixed for C & S and non C & S homes by advertisers.

Afternoon programmes, the study notes, witness less of zapping than prime time shows. The trend is favourable, says the study, for targeting re-runs of popular programmes aired in the afternoon slot.

Another pertinent observation of the study is that viewers in small towns have higher level of ad viewership. This, the study attributes to cable ops in smaller towns carrying lesser channels than their big city counterparts.

Another pertinent observation of the study is that viewers in small towns have higher level of ad viewership. This, the study attributes to cable ops in smaller towns carrying lesser channels than their big city counterparts.

Special interest channels like National Geographic and Animal Planet do not have high ratings but register only a 10 per cent drop in ad viewership. The study concludes that the channels have an advantage in their ability to narrowcast programmes and are able to convert audience interest in niche programmes to continue through the ad breaks too.

Providing a historical perspective, the study compares the trends in India with those in other countries. Commercial air time in India is bought on a property basis, while elsewhere, broadcasters sell on 'audience delivery' basis and hence are forced to ensure high ratings for the commercial. Madison Media though is hopeful that intense competition and emphasis by broadcasters to shore up their subscription revenue will eventually lead to a similar situation in India.

The study has also culled some observations from international resources about audience behaviour in other countries.


  • Viewers do not prefer channels with absolutely no advertising. Most viewers see ads in moderation as a welcome diversion.
  • The optimum ratio for well established channels is 50:10 - ten minutes of advertising in every hour.
  • Ad recall deteriorates with the length of the ad break.
  • Recall is higher if there is lesser number of ad breaks in a programme. Two ad breaks in half an hour is found to be tolerable.
  • Predictable and non intrusive ad breaks cause the minimal negative impact on the ratings for the break.
  • US and European markets usually see a synchronisation of ad breaks by most broadcasters, a practice not followed in India.
  • In India, feature films have the longest ad break length possibly due to the fact that film are popular among fringe advertisers. Longer breaks in return are not likely to be watched by viewers; consequently, the study notes, it might not be a good idea to advertise during feature films.

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