US TV has oodles of clutter, advertisers' study shows

Clutter levels showed record-high increases in the US in many TV day parts this year, indicating a reversal of last year when the amount of non-programming minutes on TV's broadcast networks went down. The only exception to the upward trend was in prime time, which showed a slight decrease in clutter.

The increases were revealed in a joint report by the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA) and the Association of National Advertisers, Inc. (ANA) entitled the 2001 Television Commercial Monitoring Report.

The annual study was released yesterday at the three-day AAAA 2002 Media Conference & Trade Show which runs February 13-15 at the Disney Contemporary Resort in Orlando, Florida.

The report showed that on average, non-programme minutes reached an all-time high. Of the six day parts monitored, three set clutter records - early morning (18:02 minutes per hour from 17:44 in 2000), day time (20:57 in 2001 from 20:03 in 2000), and local news (17:10 from 17:05 in 2000). Although not at record levels for their day parts, non-programme minutes were also high for late night and network news. Prime boasted the only decrease-down to 16:08 from 16:17 last year, the lowest it's been since 1998.

Once again, prime emerged as the least cluttered day part while daytime remained the most cluttered for the 10th consecutive year.

Four networks (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC) are within one minute of each other for non-programme minutes in prime time, the closest they've been since November 1999. CBS experienced an increase of 26 seconds to 16:04 from the previous year while ABC, the least cluttered network in prime, remained the same. Despite showing the greatest fluctuation with a decrease of 43 seconds, NBC, remained the most cluttered day part in prime.

"While we are pleased with the decrease in prime time clutter, unfortunately, the level of non-programming minutes in the remaining day parts seems to increase inexorably every year on both broadcast and cable networks," said O Burtch Drake, AAAA president-CEO. "The agency industry has long complained about clutter because it continues to represent a negative environment for our clients commercials."

"The environment in which advertising appears is extremely important to our members," said John J Sarsen, Jr, president-CEO of the ANA. "We are disappointed that clutter in some day parts is at a record high since it can only decrease the impact of each commercial message."

The report reveals any increases and/or decreases in clutter compared to the previous year's study, which may impact the effectiveness of television as an advertising medium. It provides analysis of non-programming content among six major broadcast networks, 19 cable networks, and 19 syndicated shows.

All programming covered in this report was monitored by Competitive Media Reporting (CMR) for two distinct seasonal time periods - May 14-20, 2001 and November 12-18, 2001. Conclusions presented in prior studies were based primarily on the November period because fourth quarter ad spending is traditionally heavier than in other periods.

Clutter is defined as all non-programming content, which includes network and local commercial time, public service announcements (PSAs), public service promotions (PSPs), promotions aired by broadcast and cable networks, program credits not run over continuing program action, and "other" unidentified gaps within a commercial pod.


Network news, which saw a dramatic four-minute decrease in commercial minutes in 2000 (11:39) mainly due to election news coverage, is slowly returning to levels prior to last year at 14:49. Before 2000, more than 15 commercial minutes were reported each year in the day part for three straight years.

Daytime and prime continue their steady increase in commercial minutes following a slight decrease the previous year. Daytime continued to reign as the most commercial-laden day part, up from 16:34 to 17:14 in 2001- a record high for any day part

Regarding prime time network commercial minutes, ABC (which showed a consistent decline for the past three years) and NBC experienced the only decreases in November 2001 from 2000. The remaining four networks (CBS, FOX, UPN, WB) showed an increase in the number of commercials per hour with the greatest increase seen on CBS of 54 seconds, from 8:39 in November 2000 to 9:33 in November 2001.

UPN set a record high for all six networks, with 10:08 minutes of network commercial minutes in November 2001, with FOX delivering the least of the networks at 8:39 per hour. Excluding FOX, the other five networks were within 47 seconds of each other.


Total syndication commercial minutes broke the 14 minute barrier for the first time ever, going up to 14:02 in November 2001 from 13:59 in 2000, while local and non-commercial minutes increased slightly. Local commercial minutes have risen steadily from year to year.

Once again, King World/Camelot delivered the most cluttered syndicated programs, as "Hollywood Squares" and "Wheel of Fortune" topped the list in November 2001 with 22:25 and 21:58, respectively. "Home Improvement" experienced the largest decrease in clutter versus a year ago, a difference of 3:34 minutes to 16:58 in 2001. Due to this, "Frasier" replaced "Home Improvement" as the syndicated program with the most commercial minutes (17:07).


Fox Family Channel emerged as the most cluttered cable network running 17:54 minutes in May 2001, while E! had the most in November (17:31). There were six cable networks in May and eight in November, that had more clutter in prime time than the broadcast networks (16:08). The least amount of non-programming minutes were posted on The Weather Channel (12:42) and CNN (9:58) also in May and November, respectively. Although The Weather Channel boasted the lowest clutter levels for May, it showed a significant increase to 17:15 in November 2001.

VH-1 delivered the most commercials in both May and November 2001 while delivering the lowest number of promos as well. Comedy Central had the most promos (11) in November and HLN and CNN had the lowest number of commercial units in November 2001 (14 and 15 respectively).

Looking at the above study, who can blame Indian broadcasters for packing it in whenever and wherever possible.

Still, it is encouraging that there is awareness about this problem and attempts are being made to do to do something about it. While Star Plus, the best performing channel in India, has been lauded as being the most disciplined as far as ad breaks are concerned (according to a recent Madison Advertising study) rivals Sony and Zee are also trying to come to grips with the problem.

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) is relevant to the issue. And Sony Entertainment CEO Kunal Dasgupta has gone on record to say that he is tightening up as far as commercial air time sold is concerned.

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