Unless you have to pee or make some popcorn, commercials suck. They’re loud, generally inane, repetitive and take up time during your favorite show. They’re worse on the radio, since they’ve got bad writers and even worse actors. But if the new move by a Dallas radio station is any indication, commercials may be on their way out.
KZPS in Dallas has stopped airing commercials, though it remains a commercial radio station. Instead the company will get one sponsor for each hour of programming and the DJ will plug the sponsor through “integration,” which boils down to assuredly awkward mentions of the company. It’s a move that harkens back to the Golden Age of radio, where a company would sponsor a full program and get a few shout-outs. These comments will occupy roughly two minutes every hour. That’s really something when you consider there are normally 12-16 minutes of commercials per hour, unless you’re watching the Masters.
The move is a way to counter the increasing pressure on advertisers who are being tuned out by audiences. Satellite radio stations like XM and Sirius don’t run ads on many stations, although people do complain about DJs casually dropping company names. Meanwhile, TiVo and other DVRs enable television viewers to skip ads, because the only thing better than watching Ugly Betty is watching Ugly Betty without commercials. The DVR effect has gotten so bad that analysts expect 1 in 5 TV ads to be skipped in the next few years. This has forced 75 percent of advertisers to cut their 2007 budgets.
Finding sponsors is just the latest move to let advertisers get their name air time. With DVRs expected to reach more than half of American homes by 2010, some companies are producing five-second spots that won’t get skipped over. And, of course, there’s product placement, which is why you might see Dr. House wash down his Vicodin with a cool, refreshing Pepsi.
However, the move by this station is significant because it is owned by Clear Channel, a company that dominates the airwaves. It owns more than 1,000 AM and FM stations in the U.S. in addition to a few satellite stations. It’s a surefire bet that if the station is successful, this advertising strategy will spread. Wouldn’t it be great to have your favorite classic rock station be free of commercials?
And if this is successful on radio, it’s likely to go to television. It’s happened already: Companies have sponsored entire episodes of shows (such as 24), allowing them to air without any other commercials. This could change the way television is broadcast by removing lengthy commercials and allowing shows to write longer storylines.
KZPS is also taking an interesting approach to attracting sponsors, by allowing one company to dominate an entire industry. For example, Southwest purchased some time on KZPS, and now the station won’t accept ads from other airlines. If this trend spreads, it could lead to some ferocious bidding wars. Toyota and GM would have to outbid each other for commercial time which would only increase the competition in the industry.
For you, though, it means that commercials could be a thing of the past, putting the GEICO gecko in the unemployment line and making those classic frogs BUD-WEIS-OVER.