Alyssa Rosenberg had an interesting post on her ThinkProgress blog this week about a report that shows fewer DVR viewers are fast-forwarding through ad breaks.
According to Deadline: "The percentage of broadcast commercials skipped by DVR users dropped to 46.7 percent in the 2011/2012 season from 58.8 percent in 2007/2008. For cable, 50.4 percent of the ads were skipped this past season vs. 52.8 percent in 2007/2008."
Rosenberg wonders if TV viewers are actively choosing to watch more ads as a way to support the shows they care about -- though she admits it might just reflect their growing laziness.
I have another theory: I've been a devoted TiVo user for more than a decade, and my fast-forwarding habits haven't changed a bit. But I am watching more commercials these days -- because advertisers are using lowdown, sneaky ploys to trick me into it.
Take, for instance, this week's "Drop Dead Diva." In the middle of the episode, as I reached for the remote when the commercials started up, Stacy (April Bowlby) -- the lead character's best friend -- suddenly appeared. Had I misread the cue that signals the arrival of an ad break? I had to pause to find out. In fact, it was a scene that showed Stacy, in character, filming a commercial in which her male co-star can't deliver his lines because her hair smells so good. (Until this season, Stacy was an aspiring actress who often filmed commercials.) The tag line -- "Get to the essence of your inner diva. Keep watching Drop Dead Diva, brought to you by Herbal Essences" -- was clearly tailored to the show, and it was followed by a more standard Herbal Essences ad.
TNT is a longtime abuser of this type of sneaky interstitial spot. In "The Closer," Brenda Leigh Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick) has a sweet tooth; after she nails a confession, she often retires to her office to enjoy a Ding Dong or similar treat. For a while, Brenda's junk food habits were commemorated by trompe l'oeil "Closer"-specific spots in which a young couple apparently watching "The Closer" would exchange sexy banter linking Brenda with Kit Kats or Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Their scene would be followed by a more conventional Hershey's ad.
This season, several TNT shows are using a different style of interstitial. At the end of a segment of "The Closer," the next shot shows a voluminous purse of the kind favored by Brenda Leigh Johnson. The camera pans around discarded candy wrappers until it lights upon a handwritten note that reads: "Need the energy to grind out one more confession? Go nuts," and then moves on to a PayDay bar. Then it cuts to a PayDay commercial. (And you'll never guess what a guy on a stakeout is shown munching on a little later in the show. That's right, a PayDay bar.)
Whether it's the "Drop Dead Diva" ad featuring a character from the show or the TNT interstitials that appear to contain a written clue, these fake-outs cause the fast-forwarding viewer to pause to figure out if what's flashing by is content or commerce. It's annoying, but it's good advertising. Not only did I watch those spots, I even remember the names of the sponsors.
I support these new counterattacks against the DVR -- if the greater evil of product placement is the only alternative. Just look at what's happened to "Rizzoli & Isles," which, in Season 3, has turned TNT into a branch of the Home Shopping Network -- inserting endorsements for Dr. Scholl's gel inserts (complete with characters giving each other tips on how to wear high heels) and Toyota Camrys into the middle of a murder mystery. Stuffing a chocolate bar into a character's mouth, as "The Closer" did this week, is relatively harmless because it's easily ignorable, but wasting precious lines of dialogue to talk about "voice-activated Bing search capabilities" is tantamount to admitting that the show is a silly second-tier also-ran with a very short shelf life.