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Fox’s Big Plans to Trim TV Ads Continue to Evolve (EXCLUSIVE)

Everyone agrees TV viewers want to see fewer TV commercials. But trying to cut back on these 30-second staples isn’t as easy as one might think.

Twenty-First Century Fox continues to work through efforts to run fewer commercials in certain parts of its TV networks’ schedules. A plan to cut back as much as 40% of ad time on Fox Broadcasting’s Sunday primetime schedule permanently appears to have evolved, according to five executives with knowledge of discussions between Fox and ad buyers. Fox now appears to be offering packages of one-minute commercial breaks across Fox Broadcasting, FX, and National Geographic, some potentially over a period of a few weeks, according to these people.

These executives say Fox has told buyers that short “JAZ pods,” or commercial breaks containing just two 30-second commercials (“just A and Z”), will be utilized in many different ways across the company’s cable and broadcast networks, and that the network continues to have ambitious plans to change TV to better accommodate a rising generation of viewers who can go to Hulu or online sources for TV favorites with few commercials — and sometimes none. Fox has been seeking anywhere from $4 million to $5.3 million for the aforementioned packages of the shortened ad breaks, one of these people said.

Fox Networks Group, the operating unit that oversees the company’s entertainment and sports operations, declined to make executives available for comment.

Attention to Fox’s plans come as TV readies for its annual “upfront” market, when U.S. TV networks try to sell the bulk of their commercial inventory for the coming programming season.

Fox’s ongoing quest is emblematic of the challenges TV faces even as it tries to remake itself for a new generation of viewers. Making changes isn’t as simple as it sounds. TV shows, long formatted to accommodate traditional ad breaks, need to be changed. TV networks need to figure out how to continue to run promos touting the rest of their schedule even as they try to cut down on interruption. And the networks need to keep ad revenue coming in even as they run fewer commercials and navigate getting clients the schedules they need.

Fox had initially approached advertisers with a novel concept, offering to run a reduced number of ads during its younger-skewing Sunday schedule, which features “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy,” according to media buyers. Joe Marchese, president of advertising revenue for Fox Networks Group, has vowed to advertisers to find new ways to maximize viewer attention and engagement for their messages, and intends to deliver bold ideas for doing so.

Buyers said Fox’s plans may have grown too complex. The company considered ways to make use of local ad time, inventory normally allocated to affiliates, so as to reduce ad interruptions in primetime — essentially asking affiliates to contribute to the network’s efforts to boost its national commercials. That sparked debate that may have made sustaining a permanent reduction of ads on Sunday more difficult, according to media-buying executives.

Fox isn’t the only TV company testing ways of changing the linear-TV experience. NBCUniversal has vowed to cut 10% of ad time and 20% of commercials from broadcasts of primetime originals on its broadcast and cable networks. The Comcast-owned media conglomerate is also selling reconfigured commercial pods, called “Prime Pods,” that feature just two commercials and offers of making those ads more a part of the program they accompany. Media buyers have been enthusiastic about the concept, but are concerned about the prices NBCU has set out for using the new format.

Fox is expected to announce its plans in full on Monday, when it unveils its fall schedule during a presentation in New York.

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