New Depths of Terrible

So, The Middle is a television program on the Disney Corporation’s ABC Network. As the series’ title screams, it is as blatant a knock-off of another program, namely Malcolm in the Middle, as you could ever find in any medium, with all the usual steps down, including a huge drop-off in acting and writing talent (not that Malcolm in the Middle was ever anything wonderful itself). Obviously, the market-measurers at Disney/ABC simply noticed that the formula — ironic, navel-gazing self-pity and apolitical class resentment — still had some legs.

I mention this utterly turdy show because it just recently stepped to a new low in the multiply burned-over and reconstructed capitalist Potemkin Village that is American television. This week, The Middle aired an entire episode that was an undisguised, ham-fisted commercial for the Volkswagen Passat.

The set-up, shown in this clip, is as terrible and stupid as everything else about this series and this episode.  The premise is that the main characters’ neighbors are away doing something fun, but somehow forgot to park their brand new Volkswagen Passat in their garage, so call as ask the main characters to move it in for them.  This, of course, launches a series of scenes in which the main characters praise the various wonders of the Passat.

That’s the thing about commercial TV.  It always gets worse, despite (and because of) all the money.

Toleration Research

Noam Chomsky once said this to Bill Moyers:

MOYERS: Corporations? [Isn’t] the capitalist business system’s first priority profit-making for the general welfare, as its defenders say?

CHOMSKY: The chairman of the board will always tell you that he spends his every waking hour laboring so that people will get the best possible products at the cheapest possible price and work in the best possible conditions. But it’s an institutional fact, independent of who the chairman of the board is, that he’d better be trying to maximize profit and market share, and if he doesn’t do that, he’s not going to be chairman of the board any more. If he were ever to succumb to the delusions he expresses, he’d be out.

The same fiction-fact relation applies in marketing research.  Question any big business marketer in public, and s/he will swear marketing research is all about discovering people’s true wants and needs.

That’s a howling lie, of course.  In the real world, marketing research is about finding buttons to push and then ascertaining how much force, in what forms, can be applied to the found buttons.

Consider this important Advertising Age bulletin about the ongoing overclass push to finish subordinating the internet to corporate broadcasting/big business marketing/market totalitarianism:

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) — The web is about to get a little more like TV — minus the ad-skipping. ABC.com has started to peddle research that shows online viewers will tolerate shows such as “Grey’s Anatomy” with ads from multiple sponsors, much like TV.

Albert Cheng, exec VP of Disney-ABC TV digital media group, talked about ABC’s research, conducted by Nielsen Media Research, on a panel at this year’s National Association of Television Program Executives conference in Las Vegas. ABC spokesperson Karen Hobson said the network is showing the data to agencies in hopes of getting them to buy into the concept.

Network programming on the web, whether on ABC.com, CBS.com, TV.com, Hulu or any other distributor, has typically had a single sponsor. Sometimes ABC has featured one national advertiser and one local advertiser. Online programs have also generally had one ad per break, in part to keep viewers from clicking away, and in part to lure marketers to try what was once a new concept.

As a bonus, the networks disable the fast-forward button, so ads can’t be skipped, and since ad recall is higher, they’ve been able to charge higher cost-per-thousand rates than TV. But because there are many fewer ads, online revenue per viewer for the networks is still far below that on TV.

Boosting ad loads
ABC.com has been making noise for some time about boosting ad loads to bring the amount of revenue earned from viewers more in line with TV, and started conducting research early in 2008. “We can actually increase deliver, reach and frequency by looking at a model that will have more sponsors and more ads,” Cheng said at NATPE, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The ABC/Nielsen research concluded that adding multiple sponsors per ad break had “a minimal effect” on recall and did not affect purchase consideration or ad attentiveness. ABC said the data show that doubling the number of ads within a show from four to eight “did not affect the viewers’ overall experience with the ABC.com player.”

If ABC.com is successful, expect other online players to follow, since demand for online spots in network shows generally outstrips supply. The danger, as MediaVest Worldwide’s Donna Speciale so aptly put it, is finding “that very fine line and balance before we push them over the edge of being pissed.”

The title of this report?

“ABC Says Web Viewers Will Tolerate Twice the Ads”

Nuff said.