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Beating Those Crafty Television Advertisers


One of the great things about Sky+ is that you no longer have to watch tedious adverts about sofa sales, cheap LCD TVs, car insurance, van insurance, travel insurance, pet insurance, private health care, debt consolidation (fortunately they’re few and far between these days), the dangers of taking recreational drugs, computer games, holidays in Dubai, holidays in Malaysia, holidays in Greece, trailers for programmes showing British holiday makers making idiots of themselves in Greece and a whole bunch of other things I’ll never be interested in.

Shortly after acquiring Sky+ we got into the habit of using the ‘series link’ feature to record all episodes of everything we’re likely to watch then watch them at our leisure while gleefully skipping the ad breaks every 15 minutes (except for the wonderful BBC with no ads at all). We now very rarely watch ‘live’ TV (other than sporting events or the odd BBC show) and virtually never see adverts at all. The trouble is that advertisers know this and they know that the number of people who have personal recorders like Sky+ is growing. And I notice they’ve started employing sneaky tactics to try to get some ads in your face even when you skip them.

For a long time, once an ad break started I could fast forward at x30 speed for the count of 10, press play and be right at the point where the programme starts again. I could do it with my eyes closed. Then I found to my dismay that some channels started to mix things up a bit. They started by throwing in the odd short break, this meant I had to keep my eye on the screen and quickly back up if things over-ran, but didn’t cause too many problems.

Then I noticed that some channels got even sneakier. Instead of simply varying the ad break length they’d throw in the ‘cover screen’ mid-way through the adverts. By ‘cover screen’ I mean the screen they show at the start and end of ad breaks, usually with the title of the show, such as “THE PROFESSIONALS”, “THE UNIT” or “LOST”. When you’re skipping through the ads you look out for the cover screen so you don’t go too far and have to rewind – your trigger finger is ready for them. And the advertisers know it. So they put it mid-way through the ads, you instinctively click ‘Play’ and you end up actually watching a few seconds of some advert for carpet cleaner until you start fast forwarding again. Damn those evil ad men (and women)!

Thanks to the current world recession (or is it depression?) television advertising revenues are dropping and independent channels like ITV and Channel 4 are starting to struggle to make ends meet. While I wouldn’t shed a tear if I never saw a TV ad again it would be a shame if these independent channels went under because they’ve based their revenues so heavily on advertising. Surely there has to be a better way to fund a channel than making people sit through endless ads telling you what kitchen cleaner or drain blocker to use. I thought these TV executives were supposed to be creative!

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Creator of John's Background Switcher. Scotsman, footballer, photographer, dog owner, risk taker, heart breaker, nice guy. Some of those are lies.

8 Comments Join the Conversation

  1. Hi John, great post. I think they are going to have to get sneakier and place the products into the shows themselves without compromising their entertainment value. Psychologically, this method of advertisment may even work better than the 30 second spots that interrupt our favourite programming. The trick is making it so it is not even noticeable.


    • Heh heh, yeah, that’s pretty much what they do with product placement in films so I’m sure it won’t be long before the same happens on TV.


  2. John

    You’re a man after my own heart! I hate the ads on commercial TV with a passion. We use a Beyonwiz DP-S1 Hi-def personal video recorder (PVR) to record free to air TV, and skip all the ads, but I still think the best broadcaster in Australia is our ad-free ABC.

    We’ve had a major legal breakthrough here where a large national broadcaster took a small publisher of electronic program guides (EPG) to court over copyright issues. The main issue was that people use the EPG in PVRs such as the Beyonwiz to record free to air TV shows in high-def, then watch them later and skip ads. The commercial broadcasters sell their own PVR (the Tivo) which allows recording of shows, but doesn’t allow skipping ads).

    In a case which went all the way to our highest court, the little guy, Ice TV, won:

    I think this is great news. Like you, I don’t want to “pay” for watching a TV show by wasting my time and attention looking at ads for things I don’t need.

    You’re absolutely right. This will be an evolutionary factor which will force commercial broadcasters to change their paradigm.

    I think they’ll still be able to get away with short ad breaks in live sport broadcasts or in the news, since it’s much more appealing watching those things live – so you can’t skip ads.

    But in 5 years time, the “ad break” as we know it for other programs will be a thing of the past. I wonder what will replace it?

    Personally, I’d rather pay money than watch ads. I don’t subscribe to pay TV here because they still show ads on it.


    • I can’t believe the broadcasters trying to ban ad skipping – that’s one of the main reasons for PVRs if you ask me! Unfortunately Sky+ costs money and has ads but I can live with it since they don’t show ads on the movie channels and I can still skips the breaks completely. If that ever changes, so do my spending habits!


  3. That first paragraph was hilarious!

    Product placement has been with us for years. For example, I was watching The Professionals the other night and this weekend I’ve gone out and bought a Ford Capri without even knowing why.


  4. Hi John –

    Good post. Though – we have Sky+ in our shared house, but I don’t even tend to watch that much – these days I just hook up my laptop to a 32″ LCD and use BBC iPlayer or Channel 4’s 4oD on full-screen mode.

    No adverts, no need to worry about recording stuff. It’s fab. Though the quality can be a bit iffy, and you’re at the mercy of the broadband bandwidth…

    Been enjoying your posts, keep them up 🙂



    • Yeah I’ve watched a few programmes on iPlayer that I’ve missed and it is decent quality.

      And thanks, will do! 🙂


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