Stop. This might be a good time for a commercial.
Consumers are increasingly resistant to sitting through a traditional commercial break, but what if they were given the option of watching a commercial during breaks of their own?
AT&T’s Xandr ad-tech unit has begun selling a new version of what has been called a “pause ad,” or a commercial put in front of modern video-surfing consumers when they decide to use the remote to call for a stop in their viewing action. Hulu has used viewer pauses to post a static, translucent image over the inactive screen for advertisers like Coca-Cola or Procter & Gamble. But AT&T is taking things a step further: Thirty seconds after a customer of the company’s video services calls for a pause, a video ad starts to run with full motion.
“That’s a non-interruptive ad. It’s very high value. It’s very brand safe. It’s 100% viewable, and our sales team is in the market now with that product and it’s gotten great reception,” says Brian Lesser, Xandr’s CEO, in an interview. He says Xandr is likely to offer more detail about its “pause ad” concepts at CES in early 2020. The company declined to name advertisers who were using the technique, but said the commercials have already surfaced on DirecTV and other AT&T-operated video systems.
AT&T’s concept arrives as more advertisers are grappling with a modern generation of TV-watchers who are increasingly conditioned to despise traditional commercial breaks, which interrupt the programming which originally drew them to the screen. As more consumers migrate to subscription-based streaming-video services, the problem has been exacerbated. After all, outlets like Netflix and Amazon Prime do not break up their video offerings with the commercial breaks that have for decades been a staple on CBS, NBC and ESPN.
TV viewers have long been leery of commercial breaks. In a different era, one in which remotes and broadband connections did not exist, the “word from our sponsor” provided a great moment for a couch potato to run to the bathroom or amble over to the kitchen to grab a snack. In recent years, the advent of DVRs and on-demand streaming has made the commercial break and even dicier proposition, even though traditional TV ads continue to draw billions of dollars every year to big TV companies. In recent months, however, some networks have tinkered with their business model, hoping they can run fewer commercials during certain programs, and use that environment to charge higher prices for the ads that remain (and are tailored to the program they accompany).
AT&T might solve a larger problem. Hulu’s “pause ads” appear only to viewers who opt for an ad-supported version of the on-demand service. But the new Xandr creation overlays “pause ads” onto traditional linear viewing of broadcast and cable networks.
Research suggests that viewers “would rather see immersive advertising than a freeze-frame of a screen saver or something else,” Lesser says.
Viewers may not feel drawn to watch ads of their own accord, but the simple fact of the matter is that commercial support makes for more affordable TV viewing. And that’s why broadband outlets like Hulu and CBS All Access offer ad-supported tiers and why some companies like ViacomCBS have put new emphasis on free-to-watch outlets like Pluto, which defray costs by running video selections with commercials.
Will AT&T’s new pause concept work better than other efforts? That’s no doubt something executives will have to take a break to consider.