Cutting through the advertising clutter: Are “Prime Pods” the answer?

Television networks have been taking steps to reduce commercial time in their linear programming, a competitive response to the viewing gains being made by digital platforms where ad loads tend to be lighter. Some of the new strategies have been debuting during the current fall TV season, including NBC Universal’s launch of “Prime Pods”. These are 60-second ad breaks with a maximum of two sponsor messages, placed near the beginning of select primetime programs.

This new format is most prevalent on the NBC broadcast network and Kantar Media has been tracking these reduced pods. Among the things we’ve analyzed are the leading advertisers and categories making use of Prime Pods; the overall reduction of ad time in telecasts containing Prime Pods; and whether some of the ad time taken out of Prime Pods is being put back into other commercial breaks within the program.

Through the first three weeks of the fall season (Sept 24-Oct 14) NBC has aired a total of 24 Prime Pods in eight different programs, always putting them in the first commercial break. The shows NBC has tapped are among its most popular and account for a bit less than one-half of its non-sports, primetime programming.

Pod Programming

More than 35 percent of the available ad time in these breaks was purchased by four marketers: Microsoft, Subaru, Sunovion and Universal Pictures. The top three categories were technology, auto manufacturers and motion pictures, accounting for 50 percent of available ad time.

On average, these 60-second pods were less than one-third the duration of first commercial breaks in other NBC primetime programs They’ve also helped the network deliver on a promise to trim total ad time by 10 percent in the select shows.

1st Commercial Break

To calculate the average length of a standard first pod for the chart above, we flagged all the non-sports, primetime telecasts on NBC that did NOT contain any Prime Pods. We zeroed in on the first ad breaks (where Prime Pods are scheduled) and tabulated the loads for paid messages and unpaid network promotional spots. The analysis covered the three-week period of Sept 24-Oct 14.

While NBC’s Prime Pods have drawn a lot of attention and comment within the industry, they’re not the only reformatting of spot breaks that occurred within the host shows. Although an average of 02:39 mm:ss was cut from the first break, by at least one reckoning some of this time was added back to subsequent pods. While advertisers in Prime Pods enjoyed minimal clutter, other marketers in the same telecast were surrounded by above-average clutter.

That insight is revealed by a comparison of total national ad time in telecasts with Prime Pods versus telecasts without. As noted above, Prime Pods had about 2 ½ fewer minutes of total ad time than the comparable spot break in ‘without’ programs. But on a total program basis, the difference in loads between the two groups of telecast was smaller - just 1:29 mm:ss per hour. The gap narrowed because the remaining commercial breaks in the Prime Pod telecasts had more total ad time than the same breaks in the ‘without’ shows.

Ad Time Per Hour

An alternative interpretation of the skew is that it reflects natural variations in ad loads between programs due to advertiser demand and/or network monetization strategies. This hypothesis says commercial time in a telecast is not a zero-sum game. Less time in one ad break does not automatically mean an offsetting time increase in other breaks. If the reduced pods had been expanded to normal length, the time in other breaks would have stayed the same. The program would have had a heavier ad load as compared to the norm for telecasts that did not feature Prime Pods.

In the final analysis it’s a semantic debate. Either way, advertisers whose spots appeared in the ‘regular’ breaks of Prime Pod telecasts were in a more cluttered environment, on average, compared to other primetime programming on NBC.

As TV networks continue to experiment with new ways to reduce ad clutter and improve effectiveness, advertisers are testing the waters to see if these approaches help them stand out. NBC launched its new “Prime Pod” format in September with ads for Universal’s film First Man. Now it’s only a matter of time before additional innovative strategies are introduced from other networks like the new JAZ Pods and ‘Fox Blocks’ which Fox Networks rolled out on October 14. Kantar Media will continue to closely monitor new pod formats – as well as the overall amount of TV ad time – to see what happens next.

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