The Big Game’s Ad Clutter

80During this year’s football season, viewership to the NFL games was down. A lot of reasons were offered as to the reason why. I’m sure you have your own theories. But when it comes to the Super Bowl – “America’s party Sunday” – surely that would again show an audience increase. It didn’t.


For many years, the finale of the TV show M*A*S*H was the most watched television show, until the year that a Super Bowl would surge ahead. For a couple of years, each year the Super Bowl of that year would beat the viewership of the past year and ad rates would go up right along with the viewership. Ad clutter too.

$5 Million per 30-Second Ad

This year FOX trumpeted that it sold Super Bowl LI half-minute ads for an astounding $5 Million per ad.

Viewership to the fifty-first Super Bowl game was, like the rest of this year’s NFL season, down.

We have to go back to 2012 to see an audience this small for football’s big game.

Game Stats

Now don’t get me wrong, the NFL is still the 800-pound sports franchise to be reckoned with when it comes to broadcast. But nothing goes up forever and we may be seeing a peak.

The average professional football game lasts three hours and twelve minutes.

The average NFL game will air more than 100 ads.

The average time the ball is in play is 11 minutes.

Does this seem out of balance to you?

Super Bowl LI Ad Clutter

Media Life magazine featured this headline: “Big winner in this year’s Super Bowl: Ad clutter – It’s second-most cluttered game ever, with 51 minutes and 30 seconds”

If you’re in the ad-supported media business, this has to be concerning to you.

Ad rates can’t keep going up, ad clutter going up and audience viewership going down and expect to stay in business.

In a scholarly paper authored by Auburn University’s Herbert Jack Rotfeld he writes, “the increasing advertising to editorial ratio is causing audience inattention and consumer complaints.” And that “more effective advertising would mean that there would be less of it.”

“Abuse of audiences by intrusive advertising lowers the effectiveness of the entire communications form.”

Radio’s Ad Clutter

About a year ago this month I wrote an article entitled “Are We Killing the Golden Goose”  In that article I compared the story of Aesop’s fable of the goose that laid the golden eggs to what I saw going on with the swelling advertising inventory in radio.

Radio is like a golden goose. It has the ability to deliver unlimited revenues to the bottom line for its owners. Having an FCC license was for many years considered akin to having a license to print money.

Radio is the #1 Reach & Frequency Medium

In June 2015 my good friend – and my very first Arbitron representative when I started managing radio in a rated market – Pierre Bouvard would announce that radio was now America’s #1 REACH MEDIUM.

Radio had always been America’s number one frequency medium (the ability to reach a listener with the same message multiple times) but now it beat TV and all other ad-supported media in reaching the most people too.

That’s BIG!

It’s why I’m concerned about ad clutter.

No Ad Blocking in Radio

Radio, unlike online and TV, doesn’t have ad blocking. Online ad blocking is epidemic. TV has the dreaded DVR that allows viewers to fast-forward through the ads.

Radio doesn’t have to deal with these issues, yet.

But that doesn’t mean it can abuse its audience.


Everywhere I turn I see that podcasting is increasing in audience size. But what I’m also reading is how effective the ads in podcasts are. Could the reason be that a single sponsor usually supports podcasts and the ad is often delivered by the very voice that also creates the content that the listener tuned in to hear?

Stephen Covey

Covey wrote in his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” “when people fail to respect the P/PC Balance in their use of physical assets in organizations, they decrease organizational effectiveness and often leave others with dying geese.”

The bottom line is the future of radio will be determined by the vision of the people leading the radio industry.

Don’t kill the goose.


Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio, Sales

14 responses to “The Big Game’s Ad Clutter

  1. Reblogged this on artversnick and commented:
    I look forward to Dick’s insights each week. Something to seriously ponder.


  2. Spot On! It’s like over eating. Too much & we’re stuffed, fat and flabby. Besides quantity of commercials, the quality is slipping. Creatives and operators need to curate income as part of the show. If It’s Sunday Morning, Professor Dick gets you thinking! Clark, Boston.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s too easy in today’s corporate radio environment to have someone in the home office say, “just add another minute of spots per hour” when they need to make budget. It’s kind of like the housing bubble….prices can only go up for so long, before there is nobody left that can afford a house. With so many other alternatives for audio, can Radio indeed stand to kill the Golden Goose?


    Liked by 1 person

  4. Rick M Singel

    Media of all types are frantically cluttering EVERYTHING as well as radio. I can hardly stand to get on the website of my local newspaper anymore for all the ads popping all over. It is a universal disease. As for the Super Bowl, I loathe it. It is a conflagration of media debauchery and commercialism. Haven’t watched in a long time. Won’t in the future. The dependency on ad revenue is just killing radio, TV, websites.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post Dick. Here’s my :02 cents. I always fought (unsuccessfully) for higher rates and less clutter as a radio programmer. I would love if the NFL and the media would follow suite. All media and even The Weather Channel for god’s sake. Have you tried watching THAT for any length of time?

    With regard to the NFL the 3 big reasons that tick me off are: 1. Number of commercials 2. Very Poor Officiating 3. Number of commercials. Oh gee, did I mention commercials twice? Why is it so hard to ask for higher rates to cut down on the number of commercials! Silly me, I forgot the “G” word. Greed. The commissioner is so caught up in making the owners money he is indeed killing the Goose.
    With regard to officiating-too many rules-too many blown calls by officials that don’t work together week in or week out. Spend some money on the officials for crying out loud. More off-season training and fewer rules. You can’t hit a guy like this, or you have to catch a ball like that, or my diaper is full so we have to take another TV time out!

    Wow, that’s enough venting! Thanks Dick I feel better now.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Walter Luffman

    Another consideration: this year’s Super Bowl commercials, for the most part, weren’t all that entertaining. They didn’t “grab” me in the way previous Super Bowl spots did. Combine that with the lower viewership during the regular season and playoffs, and there just wasn’t as much reason to stay tuned in. (Although anyone who tuned out missed an amazing sudden-death overtime!)

    Radio can benefit by limiting commercial inventory and presenting more interesting commercials, especially locally-produced spots. Keep the content — all of it, including commercials — entertaining and informative, so people are less inclined to tune out when the spots begin. Deliver the same advertising message, but keep the presentation fresh. And please, please advise your non-political advertisers to keep partisan politics out of their spots!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Another insightful piece, Dick. Thank you.

    For what it’s worth, I think ad clutter is a result of a trend that began in the mid-1980s. If you look at industry reviews of the best TV spots of the 80s you’ll see that nearly all of them are pre-1986. That seems to be around the time when creativity in advertising began to slide.

    I was in the ad business at the time (as a writer and then an agency owner) and I watched it happen. Clients wanted ads that were inoffensive and, as a result, ineffective. And that, I suspect, is not why we have clutter but why we notice it as much.

    In the heyday of Top 40, major radio stations were running 18 minutes of commercials an hour. But they were different commercials. They were full of jingles. Many made use of humor (thanks, Bob, thanks Ray, thanks Stan). Live reads were done…well, live, by the on-the-air jock instead of recorded by the production manager. Commercials were woven into the patter and into the fabric of the show. If you weren’t in the mood to buy anything at least there was a modicum of entertainment value.

    Today, ads across almost all media are vapid. They lack the creativity that makes them memorable and often lack any reason to pay attention to them. They provide little information of value that would help you make a buying decision relevant to your life. They are the worst kind of salesperson: Hi, I’m here. Would you like to give me your money?

    So as the ad load goes up and the relevance goes down ads stand out all right, but in the wrong way. We notice them not because they have value but because they don’t.

    We live in strange times.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. In this article the words “more effective advertising would mean that there would be less of it” jumped out. That’s a great dream. I sit here watching a fairly entertaining TV channel when a commercial comes on for a medicine to cure something. The spot is fairly benign, but the necessary disclaimer makes me want to jump off a roof. Radio isn’t much different. Does my plumber have to smell good? Do I care if my appliance dealer is killing his partner? There are lots of ways to market your product and not all of them have to insult my intelligence. Being the 12th unit in a 7 minute stop set doesn’t help either. Dick, you got me started. We know the issues, but who’s gonna fix them? In this case the tactics that worked for Jim Schulke might be revisited.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Everything old can be new again. Not necessarily repeating itself but certainly rhyming.

      I’m seeing some broadcasters who are moving in that direction. The problem is that the BIG DAWG groups need to also get it. And that, I think is coming.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts Dave. -DT


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