Study shows viewers less likely to switch channels during commercials than commonly thought

May 18, 2010

Could the widely held belief that TV viewers, by and large, switch channels or leave the room when commercials are on be all wrong?

That's the conclusion of a recent Video Consumer Mapping (VCM) study sponsored by the Council for Research Excellence.

According to the findings, how often the channel is changed or a room left is quite similar in the minutes prior to, during and after a commercial break. The study found that in the four minutes of programming leading up to a commercial break, 11 percent of viewers changed channels. During the commercials, 14 percent changed channels, and in the four minutes following a commercial break, 13 percent changed channels.

The findings are based on in-person, computer-assisted observation of the media consumption habits of 376 adults. The extensive observational usage study, conducted throughout 2008 by Ball State University and Sequent Partners, collected data covering more than 750,000 minutes.

The study's findings about viewers changing rooms during commercials mirrored those related to channel changes. In the four minutes before a commercial break, 19 percent of viewers changed rooms, the study found. During the commercial break, 20 percent switched rooms; 21 percent left their rooms in the four minutes after returning to programming after a commercial break.

"Until now, we did not have any solid data on viewers' behavior during commercials," said Horst Stipp, senior VP, strategic insights and innovation, for NBC Universal and also a member of the CRE's Media Consumption & Engagement (MC&E) Committee. "This study fills that gap and shows that viewers pay more attention to commercials than most people assumed."

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