----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ ----------------------------------------------- */ The Fabulous Adventures of Astera: Writer/Actress for Hire: The End of DVR Fast-Forwarding?

The Fabulous Adventures of Astera: Writer/Actress for Hire

Meet Astera (aka: me), a star in her own mind. Our plucky little heroine has embarked on not one but two difficult, low-paying career paths: writing and acting. Witness the menial jobs! The unreasonable demands! The quirky friends and family! And the glimmer of success just ahead! Through it all, Astera maintains her core beliefs: 1) She is destined to be fabulous 2) Everything is more fun with a cocktail.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The End of DVR Fast-Forwarding?

ABC is pretty much my favorite network. It's got a lot of shows I follow religiously--Grey's Anatomy, Ugly Betty, Desperate Housewives, Lost. But now ABC is starting to piss me off.

Today in Media Daily News, I read that ABC has struck a deal with Cox Communications to put some of its most popular shows--the very ones that I follow religiously--on Cox's Video On Demand service the very next day after they air. The catch? If you watch these shows on VOD, you won't be able to fast-forward through the commercials. ESPN has entered into a similar deal with Cox. These tests will be starting next fall in Orange County, Calif., which happens to be where I live, and where I subscribe to Cox.

I hate Cox for other reasons, which I will discuss in a separate post. It doesn't surprise me that this terrible cable provider would enter into such a deal. It does bother me that ABC apparently thinks that they should hold us hostage to television commercials. Okay, so at this point, if you record Grey's Anatomy on your DVR, you'll still be able to fast-forward through the commercials. You just won't be able to fast-forward if you forget to record it and want to watch it on VOD. But I still think it sets a bad precedent.

ABC's position is that it wants to nip ad fast-forwarding in the bud, before people get too accustomed to being able to do it. Now, I know that many people have yet to experience the magic that is DVR (according to Nielsen only 17 percent of households have them), but haven't people been recording shows on their VCRs and playing them back and fast-forwarding through the commercials for years? News flash: People don't really want to watch commercials. For the most part, they're just annoying.

I have a feeling that this is all being driven by Mike Shaw, ABC's president of advertising sales. I blogged about him last year after he said that he thought DVRs were just a "convenience," not a method of "commercial avoidance." Sorry, Shaw, but it's both. Do any of you out there who have DVRs not use them to skip commercials? I never even watch live TV anymore. I always record my shows, wait about 15 minutes, and then start watching, just so I can fast-forward through the commercials.

The American public is not stupid. Well, sometimes it is. But not when it comes to commercials. Most commercials are extremely stupid, and even when I fast-forward through them, I get the gist. Besides, I see the same commercials over and over. It's not like I don't get the message the first time. I don't need to see it 20 more times. Also, most commercials are a mixture of images and text. I can still read the text while I'm fast-forwarding. The message is not all lost!

Look, I understand that the television networks need to sell ads. Otherwise, how else could they justify kazillion-dollar salaries for their execs? Clearly, companies want to advertise to consumers so that we'll buy their products. But technology is changing the way we watch television, and once the genie is out of the bottle, you can't put it back in. If ABC succeeds in getting cable operators to "disable the fast-forward [button]," as Shaw wants, I might go back to recording shows via VCR.

Here's a tip for all the ad agency creatives who need to ensure that the ads they create will be seen so that the companies they work for will keep them on retainer: MAKE BETTER COMMERCIALS! I'm serious. If there's a commercial that is funny or intriguing, I will watch it willingly. I have even re-wound my DVR to catch a commercial I particularly liked. For instance, I always watch those "Mac vs. PC" commercials, because they make me laugh and I have been a fan of Justin Long ("Mac") since his days on "Ed." Seriously, these ad execs are also getting paid plenty. It's time to step it up.

There is another solution, too. Maybe it's time to go back to the days of sponsored shows. I'd be much more likely to watch a minute and a half of ad pre-roll before my show, if it meant that the narrative wasn't interrupted five times by stupid commercials. For instance, last night on "House," House discovers that Wilson has been dosing him with anti-depressants ground up in his morning coffee. This would be a great opportunity for one of the big pharmaceutical companies to sponsor the show, and then have it be their anti-depressant that is mentioned! (This would work especially well, since the FDA is planning to crack down on direct-to-consumer drug marketing).

Clearly, the same old way of advertising isn't working as well anymore. It's time to get creative. Isn't that what these people are paid for, anyway?


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