As a followup to my post on how the line between editorial and marketing is bluring (if as I argued it ever existed), I wanted to share this anecdote.
Back in the day (mid-90′s) I worked at the Disney Channel in marketing (no I wasn’t on the brand or creative side of the team – i worked in subscriber acquisition and distribution two areas which would serve me well in my online roles down the road). When I started at the Channel (as we called it inside the Magic Kingdom and no no one called themselves cast members) we were a niche paid monthly movie service focused on being a family friendly version of HBO. Unfortunately there wasn’t much of a market for a niche move service so the Channel re-launched itself as folks know it today as a basic cable network competing with Nickelodeon.
One of the key benefits that we launched the new basic cable version of the Disney Channel around was being ad free. We had the benefit of always having been ad free as a pay movie service so we could negotiate the license fees around being ad free. And for those who can’t remember back then there was a big uproar with the FTC about advertising and its impact on young tv viewers. Put the two together and we had a big win – or so we thought.
And so the Channel re-launched in all its ad free glory. And you know what happened? People started complaining that the Disney Channel didn’t have ads! Seriously it was the #1 complaint. Who would have thunk it! Turns out people have been so trained to watch ads that they can’t sit still for more then 10-15 minutes without a break. Doesn’t mean they liked they ads, it just means they couldn’t enjoy tv without the sense of a break. So what happened? Disney started running house ads for other programming which is still the format you see today on the Channel (and in large part because the Channel was contractually prevented from running 3rd party ads). So the moral of the story is that people are a lot, and I mean a lot more, willing to sit through ads then they will ever otherwise admit.