Commentary by Bill Buchanan
Somewhere out there is a heroic inventor on a level with Edison, Marconi and Franklin. Yes, someone has invented Auto Hop —- a device offered by the Dish Network that lets you skip commercials on television shows when recorded on a DVR. You don’t even have to fast-forward. You just hit a single button to automatically skip through the incessant whining of television commercials. As you might guess, network television executives are not exactly enamored with this new gadget. Advertising commercials pay the freight for network programming. A device that can eliminate them is a real threat to the networks. So much so that NBC and Fox are not allowing Dish to run advertisements touting the new product. Dish seeks to run ads about a product designed to eliminate them, which the networks refuse to run. How’s that for irony? I can understand the concern from the networks. While cable has subscriber fees to offset costs, the networks depend solely upon commercials for their revenue. On the other hand, in many ways, this is just the chickens coming home to roost for the networks. Over the years, networks have engineered various ways to make TV commercials even more obnoxious —- a feat many thought impossible. First, they have crammed more and more commercial time into each hour of programming. In the 1960s, an hour-long show would typically run 51 minutes excluding advertisements. Today, that figure is down to 42 minutes for networks, and 40 minutes for some cable channels. Consequently, the time allotted to commercials has doubled. Of course, this doesn’t take into consideration the shameless product placement in many shows — another way to bombard the viewer. Television has cut the time of each commercial from one full minute in the 1960s down to 30 seconds, and in some cases, even 10 to 15 seconds. During a break, it feels like you have watched 47 different commercials, thus adding to the overload. Another of my television commercial pet peeves is that all of the networks seem to conspire to run their ads at exactly the same time. You cannot leave a show during a commercial to peek at another show —- you’ll just see a commercial on that station, too. Try this with the evening news sometime. If you switch from NBC to watch another newscast during a commercial break, about the only thing you will see is another commercial. That is not coincidence. But even this bit of collusion is not as obnoxious as the extreme increase in volume when there is a commercial break. If you do not dive for the volume control when a commercial comes on, you are subjected to an annoying increase in volume. It is so irritating that a special law, the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation or C.A.L.M. law, was passed to limit the volume of TV commercials. The law is scheduled to take effect in December of this year. The sponsor of the bill in the House was California’s own Rep. Anna Eshoo. They should put her on Mount Rushmore. I don’t watch that much network television. I like to see the news. I used to enjoy the “Today Show” until it shed much of its news content to focus on fashion, cooking, and celebrity “news.” It now seems that their prime focus is pimping out other NBC shows. The show that used to feature news and informative interviews by Bryant Gumbel, Tom Brokaw and Barbara Walters now offers the bimbo du jour breathlessly asking some fat guy from “Biggest Loser” how he lost all that weight. The upside is that I now read far more than I used to. And even a bad book will trump almost anything on television, anyway.