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Bite-sized advertising isn’t just for digital anymore...

September 20th 2017

Originally published on Fierce Cable.

What can you do in six seconds? Thanks to Vine (rest in peace) we’ve had the opportunity to explore this already. You can remove a stripped screw, tie a Windsor knot, and learn how to grill a steak. But, is it enough time to change the channel? Advertisers are betting that it isn’t.

Six-second ads are typically found in video platforms like Snapchat and YouTube, not during your favorite primetime sitcom or sporting events. FOX wants to turn that notion on its head. In a recent announcement Fox shared it will be offering 6-second ads in addition to the traditional 15- and 30-second ads, across marquee events like NFL games, the World Series and award shows.

The logic behind this makes sense for networks, advertisers and viewers. With premium placements for the shorter spots close to that of a 15-second spot, networks can earn the same amount of revenue, while cutting advertising minutes. And, advertisers win by keeping the viewer’s attention. With most reports putting the average attention span for basic tasks between 8 and 12 seconds, the 6-second ad even gives you some wiggle room. Viewers are also less likely to change the channel for a full commercial break, if they know that even with five commercials, it’s just 30 seconds of total time. Lastly, for viewers, they have more show time, and less commercials. It’s a win-win-win.

The new format may also lead to additional opportunities. For example, in the World Series, Fox may put the 6-second ads in during game breaks that wouldn’t normally be long enough for a commercial. During the 30 seconds a coach or manager has to talk to a player on the field, Fox can add a box adjacent to players, so you see the ad while the team talks. This also comes with an added benefit of less Joe Buck commentary filling in those gaps. The company feels that these ads, placed in unique positions, have the potential to gain even more attention than traditional units.

While the strategy has risen out of necessity as traditional broadcast and cable networks figure out how to compete against expectations produced by ad-free viewing on Netflix, Amazon Prime and DVRs, it seems like it could be a win for the right type of advertiser.

While many creative agencies have been developing shorter ads for online consumption for years, it is often a truncated version of a full 30-second TV ad. If this format becomes more popular across TV, it does pose some challenges for creative agencies and advertisers who need to be informative and story heavy, like pharma or movie releases.

This conversation got us here at SMI thinking—what does the current breakdown of ad length look-like? How are different advertiser categories working with different TV ad lengths?

What we found is that advertisers have been using shorter ads more than we expected. The industry often talks about the average “30-second spot”— based on our review of the three-year period from 2014 to 2016, the most popular spot is actually 15 seconds. Nearly 50% of the nearly 40 million spots that ran during that time frame were 15 seconds, while only 44% were 30 seconds.

Breaking down the growth by spot length over the same period, we see that the 15-second ad has grown in popularity, but so has the 90-second spot. Assuming the best candidates for the shorter 6-second spots come from the 15-second spot (which was first introduced in the mid-1980s) then there is a significant base for advertisers to target.

The advertiser categories that utilized the 15-second spots most are CPG (food, product & dairy, beauty, grooming & personal care) followed by quick-serve restaurants, household supplies (another CPG segment) and OTC pharmaceuticals. These categories tend to have more established brands and may find the 15-second spot offers them the right balance of time to craft their message.

The longer 90-second spots are predominantly from prescription-pharmaceutical (DTC) with 62% of the spots from this category. This is not surprising as this category must reveal side effects and refer consumers to their website or long-form print ads. In the past few years, the DTC pharmaceutical category has seen tremendous growth (+38%) as the pharma companies have started to advertise around disease states that were not previously advertised (irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, chemo treatment for cancer patients.) While changes have been proposed that would allow companies to reduce side effects mentioned in these ads, ultimately decreasing spot time, it seems unlikely that the pharma industry will ever be able to take advantage of shorter inventory.

Actual ad length is one of the only things that hasn’t evolved about network television in recent years, so it makes sense that it’s time for that to be disrupted as well. The 15-second ad has clearly been a success over the last 30 years; it stands to reason that the 6-second ad will similarly become a standard unit in TV media buying, but only time will be the judge of that. We’ll certainly be watching.

Christine Hayes serves as the director of market intelligence at Standard Media Index. Prior to joining SMI, she spent nearly a decade with the NBCU Ad Sales team, where she led market intelligence activities and focused on keying in on new business opportunities. Earlier in her career, Christine led Go-to-Market strategies at Nokia and managed strategic marketing and planning at GE Commercial Finance.

SMI Team

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