Study sez commercial viewing, retention rates don't differ much

NEW YORK — Madison Avenue’s image of cable-network viewers is that they’re locked in the grip of attention-deficit disorder, punching the buttons on their remote controls like lunatics every time a commercial interrupts the flow of programming.

“That’s just not true,” said Joe Ostrow, president and CEO of the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau. He cited a Nielsen study released Tuesday, which shows that when it comes to remembering the content of a commercial spot, “there’s essentially no difference between cable- and broadcast-network television.”

The key finding of the report, which is based on a telephone survey of 17,200 adults 18 and over in April, is that cable-network viewers are just as likely as broadcast-TV viewers to stick around during the commercial breaks and pay enough attention to remember the gist of the advertiser’s message.

The percentages from the study: 65.2% of cable viewers are watching the commercials instead of surfing the dial compared with 67.9% of broadcast viewers, a statistically insignificant difference.

Commercial recalled

Similarly, 14.9% of people watching ad-supported cable networks recalled at least one commercial from the pod of spots during the most recent break compared with 14.5% of people viewing the broadcast nets.

Ostrow said the Nielsen report revealed that Madison Avenue is wrong in its conviction that the recall rate on 15-second spots is about 75% the rate of a 30-second spot. That actual rate is only 48% for a 15-second spot compared to a 30, according to the survey. That revelation raises big doubts about the effectiveness of 15-second spots.

However, one bit of conventional wisdom that was reinforced by the survey is that networks are making a mistake when they stuff more commercials into a break. As Ostrow puts it, “The more commercials in a pod, the lower the recall” of a specific advertiser message.

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