The End of Commercial Skipping Nears?

Mari Silbey —  July 21, 2008 — 12 Comments

I was lucky enough to get a DVR back in 2001, and I’ve enjoyed a largely commercial-free television experience since then. But I’ve always known my ad-free days are numbered. On the one hand, there’s the Web, where pre-rolls, interstitials and sponsored ad banners are pretty common. On the other hand there are DVRs themselves, and the encroaching interests of content owners who are looking for ways to disable recording features to preserve their revenue streams.

First came that network-DVR precursor known as Start Over, offering viewers the opportunity to rewind to the beginning of some live programs, but without the ability to fast forward after that. Now comes the MPAA’s proposal for selective output control (SOC), which would allow service providers to shut off the ability for a DVR to record content around some early-release HD movies.

There’s a lot of fuss and muss around the MPAA proposal, but frankly it’s probably all for nothing. Even if the MPAA doesn’t win this fight (the CEA has come out against the proposal), content owners aren’t going to let everyone watch good stuff for free (or free plus cable/telco subscription) without finding a way to include commercials. Even if, at some point, producers start demanding the use of SOC for regular TV shows, eventually consumers are going to end up giving ground. There are some shows that folks will just turn away from if they have to watch scores of ads. But consumers aren’t going to give up on every show, even if DVRs stop working altogether. (And they won’t; they’ll just “evolve”.) TV is too convenient, and we like our episodes of Lost and CSI far too much.

It’s fun to whine and complain about the MPAA, but the old cliche is sadly true: there’s no such thing as a free lunch. To mix a metaphor, we can only hope the pendulum will stay swinging on our side for a while longer. Eventually we’ll have to start watching commercials again.

12 responses to The End of Commercial Skipping Nears?

  1. The genie’s already out of the bottle… there’s no going back. Though, I fully expect more on-box advertising and in-show product placement to recoup those lost “opportunities.”

  2. Even with my DVRs, (TiVo and HTPC), I find myself waiting for shows to be released on DVD. The commercials are getting too frequent and too obtrusive.

    I’m getting CTFFT, “Carpal Tunnel Fast Forward Thumb”.

  3. Interesting theory, but actually, I think the end of commercial TV as we know is closer to an end. As long as there is the “analog hole”, there is a certain minority of customers that will find a way to move past the commercials. Couple that with more and more folks willing to pay for on-demand content, and a generation of younger folks who just steal content, I’d say you got an industry that needs to re-think itself entirely. Yup, the genie is out of the bottle.

  4. @TiVoSteve Agreed. DVDs are the best way to watch TV – Catch a whole season in a few weeks, commercial free. Speaking of which, I need to go back and watch more of The Wire. We saw half of season 1 a few years ago, but with little on right now it’s time to revisit.

    I still find the UK has the most interesting model. A TV tax underwrites most television content. It’d never fly here in the US, but it sure is thought provoking.

  5. I agree the industry is going to change, and content owners and distributors have plenty of their own problems to worry about. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to continue to get commercial-free TV unless we’re willing to pay for it. TV on DVDs is a great example. I love the model too, and I’m willing to pay for it.

  6. While I enjoy DVDs for television series to an extent, I think there will always be a desire and demand for the channel surfers and those people will watch the commercials.

    I for one only watch commercials during live sporting events or when at someone elses home. My HTPC gives me that freedom and includes commercial detection so I just hit the “skip” button and it goes to the end of the commercial just like that. That really cuts down on the CTFFT that Tivo Steve talks about ;)

  7. I’m with Dave…I don’t think consumers will ever give ground on this. Think of the recent uproar when Windows Media Center DVRs accidentally wouldn’t let people record certian NBC programs. Now think about how small a percentage of the market that WMC DVRs actually have. I remember a few years ago when TiVo accidentally flagged episodes of the Simpsons — people freaked out and TiVo relented. People aren’t going to relinquish control of content easily.

  8. I pay Cablevision, my cable provider, for the content. The commercials come along but I have every right not to watch them and fast forward. Cablevision is whole whether or not I am forced to play the commercials. I am satisfied with this arrangement. BTW, I do not watch OTA-type content (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC…) I watch cable-only channels.

    I do not care if the content producers are unhappy about this. They are paid by Cablevision, so the advertising is extra income to the big content companies. The majority of content is reruns/repeats, and just so lousy these days. If we could send the big content producers into bankruptcy the world would be a better place.

  9. I second Richard’s opinion.

    I don’t mind having to watch commercials but only if I’m not paying for a feed (like Hulu.com or a network streaming site). But for a paid cable/satellite content, I don’t want to see ads and I time-shift as much content as possible.

    Even if you watch a couple hours a day, you’d spend 30+ minutes staring at ads. This seems like a great waste of time especially for people who work long hours and don’t have much spare time.

    As far as sports games go — you can watch a football game in under an hour if you watch just the plays and some interesting moments here and there. For the OTHER football (soccer) it also works out well — I watched most unimportant Euro 2008 matches at FFW (first speed). It sped up the game 3x and, for soccer, worked out perfectly.

  10. I actually don’t like watching shows on DVD. The unskippable FBI warning is more annoying than skipping commercials with my Tivo remote. Plus, once you factor in putting the dvd, spinning and loading times, main menu intro, and intro credits, the tivo has you beat.

    Unless you’ve got one of those pioneer tivo units that let’s you start watching the dvd right at the start of content, instead of at the fbi warning. :)

  11. I was just watching Stargate: Atlantis and I noticed several placements – Dell, NEC, etc.

    I’m ok with that.

    I’m not ok with service providers shutting things off on a broadcaster’s whim. I find it interesting that consumer groups rarely ever pursue legislation to force companies to do things. I also speak of this Andrew Cuomo garbage about Usenet – signing a pledge to ban alt.* groups and if you don’t (Comcast?) then he’ll pursue legal action against you.

  12. I have not watched broadcast OR Cable TV since December of 2006. The quality of the Shows continue to head south, with more and more Decent Shows taken off the air and replaced with shoddy “Reality” News or Game Shows. At the same time the number of Commercials rammed down our throats has increased to the point of being unbearable. What is most disturbing is the cntent of these Commercials. Many Companies think the best way to intice me to partake of their products is to present themselves in an obnoxious or even offending manner. Some Ads (Especially those for certain Medical products) approach being PORNOGRAPHIC in nature, and are often aired at times WHEN CHILDREN ARE WATCHING! (They even have the nerve to advertise things like Sex Pills and “Bodily Function” Ads during Children’s Programs themselves! Complaining to the Networks, the Programmers or the Companies is an act of Futility. You are told by the Networks and the Programmers that they have no control over what the Advertisers show on their Programs. The Companies that put out these ads will argue about “Constitutional Rights”. I finally decided enough is enough. Since the Networks make their money selling commercials they obviously do not need my subscription money, so I put it to better use. Since January of 2007 I have ammassed over 7,000 hours of TV Programs on DVD. I no longer have to spend an evening in front of my TV with one finger on my remotes “Mute” Button, ready to blot out an offending ad. I do not seeing TV Programming improving anytime soon. Fortunately there’s a HUGE supply of Decent Shows already made, and we’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s available on DVD!

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