Analysis: Too many ad breaks in Downton Abbey?
Charlotte Bell, Director at Feather Brooksbank explores ITV’s challenge after viewer complaints about the number of ad breaks in Downton Abbey
After two episodes of the new series of the popular ITV drama Downton Abbey, fans are in uproar about the number and length of commercial breaks during the programme.
During the 90 minute programme, viewers were exposed to five ad breaks each lasting 3.5 minutes which equates to almost one fifth of its total airtime taken up by commercials. The programme started at 9pm and commercial breaks were aired at 21.16, 21.33, 21.47, 22.05 and 22.17, so it is easy to understand why viewers are a little disgruntled and feel the ads are spoiling their enjoyment of the show. However, the reality is that this pattern has started to become fairly common in ITV’s schedule, particularly for the most successful programmes like the X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent. Appropriate Adult, a factual drama about Rosemary and Fred West which was shown in the same Sunday evening slot on the previous two weeks followed an identical pattern of ad breaks to Downton Abbey.
Downton is a hugely successful programme for ITV with Sunday’s episode viewed by 9 million adults, taking a 35% share of viewing. From an advertiser’s perspective, the programme is a valuable vehicle to get a message across to a huge number of ABC1 viewers. Advertisers with greatest access to the programme are those buying a premium ABC1 audience. Brands appearing in the breaks included Santander, M&S, VisitScotland, Christian Dior and Baileys. Demand has however been so great that we have had brands who wouldn’t normally buy a premium audience, changing their buying strategy just to get Downton on the schedule.
The commercial needs of ITV and the enjoyment of its viewers are clearly at odds here. The reality is that ITV can only afford to run high quality dramas like Downton (which has been reported to cost £1million per hour to make) by generating huge advertising revenues from them. Viewers are generally quite accepting of this trade-off but it appears that ITV have gone a little too far with this one. It’s a tough balancing act for ITV as they need viewers to attract advertisers but without revenue from advertisers they can’t deliver the quality programming to attract viewers. I suspect we may see some small tweaks in the pattern of commercials in future episodes of Downton, but nothing too dramatic. In reality though, if viewers want to watch quality drama on ITV then they will have to get used to this number of ad breaks.