Pi Attitude Zone: Material Status

Why European TV Viewers Hate Ad Clutter

Ask Silvio Berlusconi where advertising clutter comes from. If his memory gets hazy, remind him about his motorcycle days.

Back in the 1980s, long before Berlusconi’s expansion into the politics racket, he established himself as the capo di tutti capi of Italian TV.   Advertisers were complaining that the dead hand of the RAI state networks was restricting their access to the airwaves.  Young Berlusconi spotted an opportunity, and invested his newly-minted property fortune in snapping up local TV stations across the country.

When Italy’s government slapped an interdict on national TV networking by anyone that wasn’t themselves, Berlusconi coolly motor-biked hundreds of tapes of his sultry soap operas and sexy variety shows to his provincial TV stations. By pure coincidence – imagine! –  they all decided to transmit the same shows at the same time, thus turning hundreds of individual TV stations into de facto national networks. The stratagem toppled RAI’s top shows from their dominant position. The law duly bowed to the inevitable (Italian laws often do), the Berlusconi networks were legalized, and Don Silvio unleashed such a torrent of TV ads on a goggle-eyed public that it surprised even the Italians.

Now, decades later, Italy has been left behind in the TV clutter stakes. Spain has elbowed its way to the front in the TV clutter “rogues’ gallery”.  In Spain, TV ads are so pervasive that the programs have a tough job getting a word in edgeways.

An average of over 20 spots per commercial break? Breaks with over 50 commercials? What can they be thinking? The answer goes back to the post-Franco era, when commercial broadcasters crowded into the market and began to compete aggressively for Spain’s booming advertising budgets. The dominant ploy was to boost revenue by undercutting rival stations’ ad prices. Discounting went crazy, to the point that some TV networks ended up staring into the abyss of insolvency.

But the madness was already unstoppable. Legislators shrugged, and the broadcasters just kept on stuffing more and more commercials onto the airwaves – until Spaniards ended up with commercial breaks long enough to step out for a three-course meal and still have time left to phone their mother.

Audiences have been voting with their hand-held remotes, and drifting away from ad-saturated terrestrial stations to the relatively uncluttered offerings of cable and satellite TV, not to mention streamed programming.

Why do TV stations do it? Fundamentally, because they can. Commercial TV responds blindly to the money-making imperative by pushing as many commercials onto the airwaves as they think they will get away with.

But in the end they’ll find that less is more.

Zone: Material Status Country: Europe Product – Communications