Don't skip that commercial!

Posted by Mark Raby

London (England) - The cable/satellite network FX is unveiling a new idea to make sure that everyone watching the station will not miss its station promos, even those who fast-forward through commercial breaks at 12 times the regular speed. And the idea to accomplish that goal is less high-tech than you may think.

For its original drama series "Brotherhood", UK-based FX plans to air a commercial that is a static image for the entire 30 seconds. In doing so, FX hopes that, even when viewed by someone who is fast forwarding through strings of ads, the entire message will still get across. Of course, if you don't fast-forward, the ad may be a bit boring.

Digital video recorders, like Tivo, have been blamed in a large way for the reduced exposure and effect of commercials. This trend has forced companies to search for new ways to promote their products. Along with DVRs, the explosion of Internet video is also hurting TV ad spots. Talking about all these changes and their effect on the television industry, Jason Thorp, senior vice president and deputy managing director of Fox International Channels UK, a subsidiary of News Corp, said "A creative response will be the only solution to all of them."

This new idea for its own channel-specific ads comes after the network claimed that more than 30% of the people who watched last drama series, "Sleeper Cell", viewed it after its original airing on a digital recorder. The company claims that its upcoming "commercial" for "Brotherhood" will be the first UK ad designed specifically for the DVR crowd. It will air for the first time on 22 September.

It seems every day a new Tivo is sold, advertising companies sweat a little bit more. The digital video recorder (DVR) phenomenon is even at the forefront of the 2006 midterm elections, with reports stating that political campaign ads are suffering from TiVo-like technology.

Companies are now forced to search for new ways to get their products and advertising messages across. In-movie product placements have grown in importance, as have ads placed inside video games. The average TV spot just doesn't seem to cut it anymore. For some companies, this means putting out commercials that are so visually intriguing that DVR users will actually stop fast forwarding to go back and watch it.

However, for those who can't attain such a level of interest, there are other options surfacing. A couple of interesting patents have popped up in the past. One of the more interesting ones, but probably one that at least for now does not appear to actually flourish into anything, is an idea from Philips to literally prevent viewers from switching channels during a commercial break, and also from fast forwarding while watching a recording. However, for a small fee, users could pay a fee to be unlock these abilities again, Philips imagines.

Jamie Kellner, chairman of Turner Broadcasting, also thinks that viewers should pay for the privilege of skipping over adverts. Kellner has been quoted describing ad-skippers as "thieves" and asking for $250 per year per device to be able to continue to zap through commercials.

Pay-for-skip technology is not the only solution, though. Another more recent patent, specifically linked to the issue of DVR fast forwarding, would not prevent speeding through ads. Instead, it would ensure that the frames that do show up in increased speed would be arranged such that the basic message of the commercial, textually, would still show up on the screen.