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Advertising agencies worried about too many TV ads

It's not your imagination. The number of commercials on prime-time TV is at an all-time high, and it's starting to worry the people who make the ads.

Each hour of prime-time network television contained an average of 16 minutes, 43 seconds of advertising last November, a jump of 59 seconds in just one year, according to the American Association of Advertising Agencies.

Advertising "clutter" was already at an all-time high in 1998. The amount of ad time has gone up by nearly a minute and a half in just two years.

The dramatic increase has some advertisers concerned that their messages are being lost in the flood of commercials, in-house promotions and public-service announcements.

"I would suggest there is a direct correlation between the increase in clutter and a diminishment in the effectiveness of our creative campaigns," said Steve Grubbs of the advertising firm BBDO Worldwide.

John Mandel of Grey Advertising added: "If the television industry doesn't recognize soon that they are killing the golden goose, they will lose the battle for the attention of consumers to their content and the attention of advertisers as the major advertising vehicle."

A strong economy has increased the amount of advertisers wanting to get on TV.

There's been a particular flood of ads by dotcom companies that use television to create an image.

At the same time, TV networks are being squeezed by increased program costs -- so adding extra ad time is a temptation too hard to resist.

An ABC executive criticized the study, saying it didn't take into account fluctuations since it measures only one week.

Alex Wallau, ABC's president of network administration and operations, said ABC has kept ad time steady for its most popular shows over the past two years, although more commercials were added in some lower-rated shows.

"We have to be sensitive to the viewers and we also have to be sensitive to our buyers," Wallau said. "We cannot create an environment that becomes too cluttered."

None of the four major networks stand out as a particular culprit. ABC had the greatest average ad time, at 16:57 per hour, and CBS was the least at 16:32. Yet CBS had the most dramatic increase; it was up 1:47 from the year before.

There were an average of three minutes more commercials per hour in prime-time than there were in November 1991, the ad agencies said in a new report. An extra 30 seconds of ad time was also crammed into the half-hour network evening news programs, the report said. Late-night and early morning programs also saw increases.

ABC's "Good Morning America" averaged 15 minutes, 36 seconds of commercials last November, roughly a minute more than its competitors on NBC and CBS.


David Bauder, Associated Press

Copyright © 2000, Associated Press. All rights reserved.