While watching an NFL game on DVR, my 3 year-old daughter yelled for me to stop speeding through the commercials.  I can only dream that she actually cared enough about football to be ensconced in what was on the television.  And, any marketer or media planner would be dreaming to think that this was a sign of the future – where people will be demanding that commercials not be forwarded through.  To be fair, Scrat (of ICE AGE fame) would have to be included in all TV spots to garner this much attention from a child on a regular basis.  The furry prehistoric rodent chasing an acorn was what forced my daughter to make me stop and go back to view the spot in real-time.  This phenomenon and other research within the last 6 months – and even released this week – point toward a dynamic, nuanced future of A/V media challenges and opportunities.


Back when DVRs came out, there was such a concern about viewers not watching commercials.  People were lamenting the end of commercials and the required changes to in-content product placement.  That execution of product placement has seen varying degrees of success, but the commercials still remain key.  Back in May, IPG Media Lab and YuMe released a report that showed these results regarding TV viewing:

When participants did use the DVR to fast forward TV ads, nearly half of them paid full attention to the screen during that process. Fast-forwarded ads had 12% more attention levels than non-fast-forwarded ads. Despite the advantage of eyes on screen, fast-forwarded ads had much lower recall than non-fast-forwarded ads.

Ultimately, we don’t know what the ads used were, but from my own experience, I usually DVR the same shows each week and the ads are pretty consistent from week-to-week.  Does the repetition factor of the same commercials being fast-forwarded through create a collective impression and conveyance of its message?  For years, research has proven that people need to see something numerous times for it to sink in – it shouldn’t be any different here. Again, from my own experience (and, I guess, my daughter’s) those ads with something engaging – whether through content or imagery – attract attention and cause me to check it out.

The key with DVRs is that you still have to look at the screen – even if just to see when the commercials end and the program begins. The IPG MediaLab/YuMe report also focused on online viewing of shows that force you to watch 30 second spots – causing a higher recall rate.  But the kicker (or relative ad destroyer) was the distraction of smartphones – causing a 60% distraction rate for TV and 46% distraction rate for online video.

The addition of smartphones to the mix is the focus of a recent Razorfish Outlook Report by Jeremy Lockhorn.  The report’s focus is on the multi-screen future – with its own set of challenges. Realizing that 80% of the respondents multitask on their mobile phone while watching television, further details are striking:

70 percent of respondents who multitask do so at least once a week, with nearly half (49 percent) reporting everyday multitasking. Furthermore, during the course of a TV program, more than 60 percent check their phones at least “once or twice,” and 15 percent stay on the mobile Web for the full duration of the show.

Now, the question becomes “How many people are actually paying full attention to the screen while my commercials are running?”  One response to this is, perhaps, that DVRs aren’t quite so bad.  At least we know there’s eyeballs on the images if people are fast-forwarding.  They aren’t having the time to disengage like they would with mobile or laptop communication. And, with the way we are learning to absorb information at faster rates than ever before, we can’t write off that fast viewing.  If my daughter can catch something of interest at 3X speed, then current and future adults should be able to do the same – if not better.

Perhaps the winner here for “traditional” media is online video – where people are forced to watch spots at commercial breaks – even if it is just one commercial at 30 seconds instead of four of them equalling two minutes on air. When watching video on your mobile, tablet or even laptop, it is more challenging to whip out that second screen to interact.

The future does provide more opportunities.  We are seeing the unleashing of many second-screen applications for synchronized content – from HBO GO, to the ABC products, to numerous others – including the FoxPop App that I developed for 10 home entertainment properties only to be killed too soon because it assisted platforms other than Blu-ray.  If those second-screen iterations are done correctly, they can provide the opportunity to remain connected to their social networks, the web and the content on the screen (with all its advertisers represented fully.)

But, again,the future holds more opportunities that we do not yet see. What we see as the pariah solution now could end up being the best solution for the future. As shown above, the DVR is not necessarily the ad killer we once were worried it would become.  If the right frequency of rotation is booked and the spots are clear enough, even the fast-forwarded commercials can make an impression. Through proper evaluation and strategy, the concerns or challenges of today will bring the solutions for tomorrow without having to force consumer’s eyes against their will.