Join Greg and Diane every Monday as we debate what’s on our minds. This week: on-screen advertising is becoming more and more prevalent. Is it harshing your TV buzz?
On-screen advertising is ruining primetime viewing for me. There, I said it, and I know I’m not alone.
Remember when network bugs—the logos for CTV, CBC, Fox and others—first started infiltrating the lower right corner of our television screens? Viewers, including me, were outraged that their TV real estate was being invaded by those little buggers. The networks then faded out the bugs so they were still there, but less invasive and annoying. I recently noticed that often those logos no longer grey out and stay brightly-lit in the corner of the screen, as if I had no clue that I tuned to A&E for Bate’s Motel and The Returned.
But the network bugs pale in comparison to the advertising that has, increasingly often, taken up the entire lower third of the TV screen. Ads for CraveTV constantly interrupt my viewing of MasterChef Canada. CSI: Cyber teasers jump up during Motive on Sunday nights. Listen, I get that networks have to embed ads in their programs to counter the fact Canadians are using their PVRs to zip through commercial breaks, but I have a serious issue when the ad directly affects my viewing. There have been countless times when the name of a reality show competitor has been hidden by an on-screen ad. Not a huge deal, I admit. Reality shows remind us of competitors all the time through interviews and editing.
It was what happened to X Company last Wednesday night that got me really steamed. An ad popped up during an important scene between two German officers. The pair were discussing their next move of attack and the dialogue was all performed in German. Problem was, an ad completely obscured the subtitles from view so anyone who didn’t understand German was completely in the dark as to what was going on. To their credit, X Company‘s twitter account swiftly posted this apology and transcript of the dialogue.
The gaffe should never have happened in the first place. There should be a dialogue between the programming and advertising department where they figure out where an on-screen ad can be placed so that it causes the least amount of damage to a TV show’s storyline. I can only imagine what Denis McGrath—who wrote that episode of X Company—thought when the scene was hidden by advertising. It’s an insult to Denis and any other producer, writer, actor, actress or crew member on a TV program that has seen their work partially hidden by advertising. Television is art, and the art is being obscured and besmirched.
Would you accept it if Coke or Nabisco slapped a sticker over part of a Tom Thomson work at an art gallery? You would not. You would be outraged. Leave my TV alone!
When I finally installed an over-the-air antenna last month after living on a diet of Netflix, screeners, iTunes and website and app viewing for several years, I had two thoughts: a) yay me for finally getting it done and b) oh my god it’s all advertising.
Online advertising has its own annoyances, as does awkward product placement within the shows themselves, but nothing beats covering the action on-screen. Some channels used to have motion graphics in that lower third to make sure your eye diverts from the story you’re watching. Do they still do that? I don’t know because the annoying advertising is making me use my newfound over-the-air channels for emergencies only, like, um, watching The Voice or the Oscars live.
That said, let me play devil’s advocate: something has to pay for the content in an era when more people use PVRs and fast forward through commercials, when more channels divide the mass audience, and when more households have cut the cord while online advertising hasn’t kept pace with what a network can earn on broadcast.
I can watch X Company on the CBC website or app and be annoyed by repetitive but less frequent commercials and a clunky viewing experience, or I can wait until it might appear on Netflix, or I can buy the season from iTunes for $21 (um, no), or I can suffer with the kind of advertising that appears over the air, but something has to pay for the shows we love.
However, to be clear: there is absolutely no excuse for onscreen advertising to obscure important action or, worse, subtitles. I don’t know whether to blame CBC or the producers or both, though. There have always been “safe areas” when producing shows — the protected 4:3 area during the early days of the widescreen TV transition, title-safe areas, action-safe areas. So why is there not an advertising-safe area or subtitle-safe area known to both X Company producers and CBC alike?
One failure is simply a mistake. We can forgive and forget. But intrusive advertising is an ongoing nuisance we likely have to live with unless networks can find a better way to finance shows in today’s television landscape.