When net­works pri­or­i­tize prof­its over en­ter­tain­ment

Watchmen Daily Journal - - Opinion -

As a fan of Korean dra­mas, a fairly re­cent trend in broad­cast­ing has been the switch from 70‐minute episodes to two 35‐minute episodes per sched­uled air date. Ac­cord­ing to an ar­ti­cle last year by Park Jin‐hai in The Korea Times, “Un­der the cur­rent broad­cast­ing law, pub­lic broad­cast­ers can­not run mid‐ show com­mer­cials.” She took note of Korean net­works MBC and SBS af­ter they made such changes fol­low­ing com­plaints from view­ers about com­mer­cial in­ter­rup­tions.

Lately, KBS, South Korea’s na­tional pub­lic broad­caster, has also taken such mea­sures.

Us­ing KBS’s cur­rent week­end drama “My Only One" as an ex­am­ple, what would typ­i­cally broad­cast as one episode from 8:20 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. (with two brief com­mer­cial breaks of about two to three min­utes each), now airs as two sep­a­rate episodes. Com­mer­cials air be­tween the prior show and the first episode, there’s a short com­mer­cial break in the mid­dle of the first episode, then an­other short com­mer­cial break plays be­fore the sec­ond episode be­gins, which then runs com­mer­cial‐free.

The trend is very dif­fer­ent from the way in which net­works op­er­ate in the Philip­pines, where, at times, it seems com­mer­cial breaks are longer than the show it­self.

One show, in par­tic­u­lar, the av­er­age com­mer­cial break is about 15 min­utes, a far cry from the ads that run on KBS, which are usu­ally 30‐sec­ond pro­mo­tions for other pro­grams air­ing on the net­work. The com­mer­cial breaks make such an im­pact on pro­gram­ming, of­ten times, shows end up run­ning later than sched­uled – some­times com­mer­cials will run for a show at 7:45 p.m. say­ing it starts at 7:30 p.m.

There’s also no way of gaug­ing when a show ac­tu­ally ends be­cause the com­mer­cials eat up so much time.

Some­thing that has also be­come very ap­par­ent with lo­cal pro­gram­ming; when a show first airs, their de­but week and the few sub­se­quent weeks af­ter, the show (pro­gram and com­mer­cials) run about 40 to 45 min­utes, as episodes go by, the show be­gins to of­fer less con­tent but the com­mer­cials re­main con­stant, re­sult­ing in a to­tal air­time of around 25 to 30 min­utes – then it goes back to the 40‐minute range to­wards the fi­nale.

While writ­ers are try­ing to stretch ma­te­rial, view­ers are left with more ad­ver­tis­ing than con­tent.

Why do net­works value ad rev­enue so much to the point that en­ter­tain­ment is sac­ri­ficed? There have been nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions where, de­spite a show be­ing en­gag­ing, the amount of ads be­tween seg­ments be­came such a let­down, ended up shut­ting off the TV in­stead of fin­ish­ing the show.

The Korea Times ar­ti­cle cited Korea Broad­cast Ad­ver­tis­ing Cor­po­ra­tion data that showed ads that played in the mid­dle of a show pro­vided more rev­enue for broad­cast­ers, yet net­works still com­pro­mised for the sake of view­ers.

A par­tic­u­larly per­ti­nent anec­dote came dur­ing last year's Hal­loween episode of The Wendy Wil­liams Show, an Amer­i­can day­time talk­show. Dur­ing the live tap­ing, the host re­port­edly “over­heated” in her Statue of Lib­erty cos­tume and fainted on the air; the show went black and cut to com­mer­cial. Page Six re­ferred to the abrupt switch as “an ex­tended com­mer­cial break,” which other out­lets de­scribed as be­ing around eight min­utes – an “ex­tended” break is eight min­utes? That’s av­er­age for any net­work in the Philip­pines!

En­ter­tain­ment is the pri­mary fea­ture lo­cal net­works pro­vide for the pub­lic, but when ad­ver/sing takes prece­dent over keep­ing view­ers en­gaged, in the long run, peo­ple will find other out­lets.

The in­ter­net of­fers an ar­ray of view­ing op/ons, along with the boot­leg movie in­dus­try, which con/nues to thrive de­spite the Op/cal Me­dia Board tasked with end­ing the prac/ce of pira/ng. Per­haps, even with­out view­ers, net­works will con/nue to profit off their ad­ver/sers, but how long with they s/ck around if they know the pub­lic is look­ing else­where for en­ter­tain­ment?

Other coun­tries rec­og­nize the bal­ance be­tween main­tain­ing a prof­itable en/ty and en­sur­ing their cus­tomers are served prop­erly. Grow­ing up in the US, com­mer­cial breaks usu­ally run about four to five min­utes, be­fore mov­ing to the Philip­pines, it felt like an eter­nity; but ex­pe­ri­enc­ing com­mer­cials the way they are in the Philip­pines, it’s s/ll a cul­ture shock.

Some of the un­prece­dented in­stances wit­nessed with re­gard to com­mer­cials in­clude a “live” air­ing of the Miss Uni­verse pageant that stopped in the mid­dle of the pa­rade of na/ons to air ad­ver/se­ments. While the net­work came back to where they le off, they should have stopped claim­ing the pageant was “live” and in­stead say it was “on de­lay” – any­one with in­ter­net ac­cess al­ready knew the win­ner as the net­work was s/ll de­cid­ing the top five.

An­other mo­ment came while watch­ing a Ceres‐Ne­gros FC foot­ball match that went to com­mer­cial a er the 10th minute; hav­ing watched live Pre­mier League, La Liga, MLS, and Cham­pi­ons League foot­ball, com­mer­cial breaks are re­served for hal ime and not the mid­dle of the match – by the /me the net­work went to “hal ime,” it was al­ready the mid­dle of the sec­ond half on the (truly) live on­line stream.

It is s/ll shock­ing just how much net­works are will­ing to sac­ri­fice in or­der squeeze ev­ery penny from ad­ver/sing rev­enue. Is there any hope a lo­cal net­work de­cided to pri­ori/ze pleas­ing an au­di­ence rather than coun/ng prof­its?/

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