Do we have a moral right to avoid ads?

In America Fox, NBC and CBS, are suing DISH Network over a set-top box, the Hopper DVR, that allows viewers to skip over the ads in TV shows. The three TV stations are obviously trying to protect their revenue, and who can blame them, especially as brands are flocking back to TV (as it stills sells better than any other media).

DISH Network has responded with it’s own legal action to give it the right, or should that be the viewers right, to skip ads. (DISH Network is the second largest satellite broadcaster in the US and has about 14 million customers.)

This is the sales text from their website:

“Hate commercials? DISH created commercial-free TV so you can save an hour each night. You can automatically skip commercials in primetime TV – ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC in HD. Watch the shows you love minus the commercials. Only on the Hopper. Only from DISH.”

The TV stations are clutching at straws by claiming that the DISH unit is illegal because it is making an ‘unauthorised’ version of a copyrighted TV show. A desperate claim if I ever heard one.

Scott Goggin of Fox TV was quoted on the BBC as saying, It was destroying the fundamental underpinnings of the broadcast television ecosystem”. This reminds me of the music industry complaining about people copying records, claiming they’d all be out of business in 5 years. Well they weren’t.

Ad avoidance (or ad-skipping as it’s also known) is a potential threat to broadcast and all digital channels, from TV set to mobile phones.

It all seems a bit over dramatic as anyone who plays back a TV show can press fast forward over the ads anyway. Or just go out ad make a cup of tea. If you hate them, why watch them?

I recently heard on the Casey Clarke show, on Canadian radio station Country 92.9FM (on line), that something like 62% of Canadians are too lazy to even press the fast forward button.

Already Mozilla, the not for profit organization (and the biggest supplier of freeware), has AdBlock Plus (ABP), a piece of software that blocks most ads on Firefox, Explorer9, Chrome browsers and on mobiles. It can kill a million dollar campaign just like that, and it’s getting more popular, which Mozilla would argue is a response of consumers to uninspiring ads.

And maybe that’s the problem, most ads are not very entertaining or good, so why would you want to watch them? Worse, some just treat you like an idiot, or if you are a women, patronise you – most hated ad formulae is women talking about any product around a kitchen table (Mumsnet ad survey). It’s all very well talking about drumming gorillas but great ads represent a very small percentage of ads. My favourite at the moment is the one for Safestore – really cute!

If we had to produce ads that people actually paid for – like they do for most other things – would we approach advertising differently?

Consider this, if you are trying to sell any product, surely if you briefed your ad agency to do “an ad consumers would pay for” then you would probably end up selling your product off the scale.

After all, the more people like an ad the more likely they are to buy the product.  Adopt this simple way of thinking and we’d see a total transformation of TV and online ads.

Back to ad avoidance, the moral argument is that consumers should have a right to avoid ads if they want (the word is ignore).

However, the commercial argument is that ad filters and avoidance methods restrict ad revenue and without that TV (well except the BBC) and online services would not exist. In short, it’s a small price to pay for more entertainment choice.

You can apply the same argument to almost any magazine or newspaper. Though ironically, the cult ad magazine IMPACT (which ran in the late 90’s and was created by Steve Barker) had no ads at all.

After all, like it or hate it, ads fund our media choices and I really doubt that Dish Network is on some moral consumer crusade (like Mozilla is) but is actually using ad-skipping as a USP to flog more Hopper digital video recorder units.

The solution isn’t a legal one but a far more intelligent one – if you want people to stop avoiding ads, simply do better ads.

So maybe Fox, NBC and CBS should stop complaining and instead put pressure on adland to raise its creative standards.


  • Rosie Milton

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