Commercial tsunami

Last night we settled in to watch a two-hour special program on the TLC channel that we had eagerly anticipated for some time. The show got off to a good start, but before much time had passed, everything changed. It was time for a break for commercial announcements. “We’ll be right back, after this word” is a phrase we have become accustomed to hearing.

More than four minutes and 16 commercial announcements later, the show resumed. That’s right: Four minutes, 16 commercials. Eventually, we got to watch the actual show again for just under six minutes. Then it was time for another advertising tsunami, another four-plus minutes but this time only 14 separate announcements, by my count. I might have missed one or two.

I didn’t wish to waste my time and effort keeping track of the wrestling match between program and advertising, so I stopped counting. But when the two hours ended, actual programming did appear to have a slight edge. Slight.

This could be my imagination, but TLC seems to be one of the worst offenders, one of the leading abusers, of viewers’ time and attention. We have experienced programs on TLC that have been interrupted for five solid minutes of commercials. That’s an abuse. Yes, advertising is important, of course. It is how television pays its bills. But shouldn’t there be a limit?

Maybe you don’t agree. In my newspaper reporting days, one of my colleagues at The Miami Herald, a man who sold display advertising, argued that newspaper readers read the paper principally for the ads, not the news content. That’s nuts. And I certainly don’t watch television principally for the commercials. Do you?

I suspect that most of us feel the same way. Can’t someone fix this?


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