April 26, 2006
You Vill Vatch My
For 20 years (at
least), television advertisers have been trying to discover the
tonic for their worst nightmare. Egad! What if millions of
Americans get up and head for the kitchen/bathroom/gas station just
as my fabric softener commercial comes on the air?
In 1986, NBC
devised a novel solution – the blank Super Bowl minute. Those ads
are expensive. We need people watching them. So they put 60 seconds
of pure nothingness on TV – perhaps a tribute to the Patriots’
offensive production that day – with clearly implied instructions to
the American public to take their bathroom breaks right then.
I suppose the
measure of that experiment’s success is the fact that they never did
it again. But a journey of a million miles begins with a single
step, and just because the blank minute didn’t stop American TV
viewers from neglecting to watch ads doesn’t mean that something
can’t do it.
something may have less of a 1986 feel to it, and more of a 1984
feel. You will not change that channel! Because we won’t let
Electronics, a Netherlands-based company, has filed for a patent on
technology that would make it impossible for you to change the
channel once you’ve started watching a show and the commercials come
on. Of course, there are ways around it. The alternative suggested
by the manufacturer is that you pay a nice little fee to the
broadcaster, and in return they can, er, conveniently find a way to
disable the device.
Or . . .
you can make
the device work in reverse! It will get rid of all the commercials
for you. You can watch your movie, your soap opera or your sitcom
with no words from our sponsor. No word on the cost of this option,
either, but you know those millionaires who are buying their way
onto space shuttles? You’re probably in the ballpark. (Too bad there
isn’t a device that would add commercials to PBS
documentaries, so people could wake up.)
Now, lest you
misunderstand, Royal Philips Electronics insists it has no intention
of actually using this technology on any of its own products.
Oh no. Not at all. Its spokesman says they just wanted to develop
the technology so the industry would have it around.
You know. In case
they want to look at it and think about what a good thing it is that
they’re not using it.
sounds like the technology will function in such a way that its
application would come at the initiative of the broadcaster, since
an RPE statement says: “We developed a system where the viewer can
choose, at the beginning of a movie, to either watch the movie
without ads, or watch the movie with ads. It is up to the viewer to
take this decision, and up to the broadcaster to offer the various
might this service menu read?
Option 1: Watch
our network and like it!
Option 2: Watch
our commercials and ship with FedEx
Option 3: We give
you back your remote and you can switch to the Weather Channel
during commercials (there is a one-time setup fee of $40,000 for
this option . . . we accept PayPal)
Option 4: Feel
free to walk around your house during commercials (we will e-mail
you the codes to unlock the doors to your TV room so you can get out
. . . this option must be renewed every four days)
Who says watching
TV isn’t becoming more interactive?
It could be that
this technological breakthrough is a solution looking for a problem.
Yes, TV viewers do tend to head for the bathroom during the
commercials as opposed to, say, the resolution of the mystery or the
fourth-and-one play with three seconds left.
But somehow TV
advertising has remained a decent enough bet that sponsors still
spend pretty serious money on air time, creative fees and production
costs. The 30-second spot that cost $550,000 during Super Bowl XX
went for more than $2 million during Super Bowl XL. Perhaps they
realize that, for every viewer who has stepped out of the room or
changed the channel momentarily, there are scores more just sitting
there staring at the screen.
But the business
community has rarely seen a non-problem for which it could not come
up with a huge over-reaction in the form of a “solution.” So perhaps
broadcasters will indeed decide to charge viewers for the privilege
of changing the channel on their own TV set. After all, they’ve
subjected us to decades of Dan Rather, Janet Jackson’s nipples,
Geraldo, The View and David Spade. And we’re still
What will it take
to offend us? Broadcasters won’t rest until they find out.
© 2006 North Star
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