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TNT & TBS Boss: We’re Airing Fewer Commercials, and Viewers Love It

TCA: Turner's Kevin Reilly has committed to fewer ads and 10 more minutes of content on new dramas like "Animal Kingdom."



Go figure: TNT is airing fewer advertisements during new shows like “Animal Kingdom,” and viewers approve.

Kevin Reilly, president of TBS and TNT and chief creative officer, Turner Entertainment, told reporters Sunday that the network’s initial plan to reduce commercial load on its air has been a success. Freshman drama “Animal Kingdom” has been airing with 10 fewer minutes of commercials (replaced by show content), and Reilly believes that has helped boost the show’s ratings.

Kevin Reilly

Kevin Reilly, TNT and TBS president


“Nobody wants enormous interruptions in the middle of their stories,” Reilly said. “We’ve done studies and focus groups, and it is noted by viewers, who say it’s better and they prefer it.”

“Animal Kingdom” has grown every week since launch, Reilly noted, up 25% since its premiere. He credits some of that growth to the lighter commercial load on the show. Going forward, all of TNT’s new series will likewise have fewer ads and more content.

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“We’ve done studies on this for our clients and the marketplace, and we’ve seen very good results that not only is commercial viewing higher – so we have less tune-out for the commercial pods – but we’re also seeing a nice ratings lift,” he said at Turner’s portion of the Television Critics Association press tour.

According to Reilly, fewer ads means there’s a greater likelihood that viewers will actually watch the remaining ads – and he said an internal study indicates that there is higher brand recall.

The experiment is still in its infancy, but Reilly said Turner negotiated deals during this year’s upfront ad marketplace against limited commercial interruption. “We’re going to be sharing a lot of data about that, because we want to see that happen across the dial on television,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to do it alone.”

National Geographic Channel (with its documentaries), NBC (with “Saturday Night Live”) and Turner’s TruTV are also experimenting with lighter commercial loads. Reilly plans to start doing the same with TBS.

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As part of the formula, networks charge more for the remaining commercials, using the justification that it’s a more premium environment, and that there’s less clutter around their ads. The network is also experimenting with “native advertising” – i.e., marketing messages inside shows. Reilly pointed to a recent appearance by Maya Rudolph on “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee,” in which she sang a cheeky song about tampons for the brand Seventh Generation.

Reilly believes others will follow suit, but warns that the experiment will fail if more of the industry doesn’t shift in that direction. “I can do both networks 24 hours a day, but if we’re the only two networks doing that its not going to change the industry and we have to go back,” he said. “But I believe everybody knows it’s time to make that change and I think the data points in the right direction.”

As for the benefit to the shows themselves, Reilly said showrunners have embraced the idea of adding more minutes to their shows. Of course, “now they’ve got to generate the material. So sometimes it’s, be careful what you wish for, because you have to be able to do it. Ten minutes is not insignificant. But certainly when you’re in the hands of [Animal Kingdom executive producer] John Wells and Jonathan Lisco, that’s not an issue.”

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