Bad News For Advocates of Longer Episodes

Fox’s experiment with “remote-free TV” — a fancy DVR-era name for returning to the old practice of having longer episodes and fewer commercials — didn’t turn out too badly, but it didn’t turn out well enough for them to continue with it. They won’t be repeating it with other shows, and when Fringe returns for another season (and if Dollhouse does) it will probably be back to shorter running times and longer commercial breaks.

But despite positive results from advertisers that participated in the effort, Fox got bogged down in dealing with a smaller pool of TV marketers that will pay a premium to be in a prime-time show with fewer commercials. Plus, Fox incurred some additional costs in producing extra content for the two-hour drama–about five minutes or so.

The cost per thousand viewers (CPMs) are some 25% to 30% higher for two shows compared with shows of similar appeal, according to one media executive. Initially, Fox was asking for a 50% premium.

I still think the idea can work; advertisers like the idea of not having their ads lost in a pile of local ads and promos. And the experiment actually did work in the way it was supposed to, keeping viewers watching the show and the commercials straight through instead of switching to another channel or fast-forwarding through the commercials. This was not a great time to try something that depended on charging higher advertising rates and increasing the per-episode budgets, so the noble cause of fewer commercials/longer episodes may just be a victim of poor timing. I figure someone will try it again, or something like it, if only because the commercial-load has grown to the point where it no longer makes any economic sense. But maybe it would work better with a cheaper show, like a multi-camera comedy, where you can produce additional minutes without the huge costs of a long Fringe episode. (Besides, as I’m always saying, comedies really need an extra minute or two. The 19-20 minute running time is murder on storytelling, while the 40-42 minute running time of an hour-long show is actually not a bad length.)

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