A+E, Roku debate over how much life is left in 30-second ad spots

From left to right: Malia Moran, Next Media Partners; Peter Olsen, A+E Networks; Ben Williams, Eyeo; Mike Bloxham, Frank N. Magid Associates; Jason Flick, You.i TV; and Youssef Ben Youssef, Roku.

NEW YORK—The general consensus during an afternoon panel at the TV of Tomorrow conference is that ad breaks need to change, but opinions differed on what that means for 30-second spots.

Mike Bloxham, senior vice president of National Television and Video at Frank N. Magid Associates; Jason Flick, CEO of You.i TV; Malia Moran, managing partner at Next Media Partners; Peter Olsen, executive vice president of National Ad Sales at A+E Networks; Ben Williams, head of communications and operations at Eyeo (Adblock Plus); and Youssef Ben Youssef, director of Ad Platform at Roku all seemed to agree that digital is a threat, or at least an evolution, to the traditional TV ad model.

Olsen said there’s been ad avoidance for a long time but that it hasn’t killed the ad market yet. However, he said, there’s a need to create a better viewer experience rather than ad after ad, saying that if the TV industry were starting from scratch today, it would not build the same ad model. Still, Olsen seemed skeptical that reducing ad loads would help much without some fairly drastic cuts (1 minute of ads per hour instead of 12, for example.)

Olsen said it’s “noble” to want to reduce ads but said it could also be somewhat of a “PR play,” clarifying that increased relevance is what ad breaks would better benefit from.

Flick pointed out that the model is 50 years old and asked which industry is still monetizing things the same way it was 50 years ago. While he didn’t call for the elimination of instream 30-second spots, he pointed out how ads can be delivered online in many different ways, including lower-third ads or within a modified user interface.

If anything, varied ad deployments could help to break up the monotony of online ads. Youssef said there are publishers that only focus on monetization and that Roku often has to tell them not to just keep showing the same ad 10 to 12 times in a row or risk losing viewers.

Olsen attributed the often-repeated ads on OTT not to a fundamental problem but more to a lag in advertising flocking to OTT.

“As measurement gets better, more advertisers will show up and it will feel more like a traditional TV experience,” Olsen said.

Of course, A+E is currently working on ad models that could be considered outside of the traditional TV experience. As Olsen pointed out, everything outside of prime time is a lot of repeats, and so A+E, through its partnership with Hearst, has been working to repurpose content into three- or four-hour formats to make a blend of show and sponsored content, or multiplatform native ads that show across linear and social channels.

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That kind of experimentation will pay dividends, according to Flick. In five years, he said, the companies that try to innovate outside of 30-second ads and instream advertising will see a benefit.