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PBS Announces Ad Breaks During Shows, Beginning Of End Also Announced

Okay, I’ll admit it: It’s perfectly possible that I was spoiled as a kid, growing up with the BBC and not having commercial breaks in every single television show I watched (Also, having Doctor Who, but that’s another thing altogether). Nonetheless, the news that PBS will add ad breaks every 15 minutes to its programming is something that I find curiously depressing.

I’m not depressed that PBS has suddenly “sold out” – As I understand it, the ad breaks will be “non-commercial,” as someone familiar with the decision that spoke to the Hollywood Reporter explained, offering up station idents, sponsor messages or other content that already appears on PBS between shows instead of regular advertising, as on other television networks – but, instead, that the decision has apparently been made that the form of broadcast television has somehow been quietly declared the way everything should be from now on. Yay for short attention spans, right?

If I’m understanding correctly, the decision to move idents and sponsor messages from in between shows to in the middle of shows comes because audiences weren’t sticking around from show to show. Chief Programming Executive for PBS, John F. Wilson, said that “It’s almost as if someone pulled the fire alarm and they scrambled for the exits” between shows, although PBS isn’t releasing any viewing figures for comparison with other networks on the subject. Thing is, as much as I love PBS – I genuinely do; Masterpiece and Nova are two unguilty pleasures – I have never, ever considered it as a cohesive network, programmingwise. The idea that I would settle in for an evening just watching PBS seems… unexpected, and unlikely, much in the same way that I would do that for any other network, even the ones that run shows together without ads inbetween (Fox, for example).

Further, the idea that removing breaks between shows will reduce drop-off seems based on an idea of an audience that feels curiously outdated; with TiVo and other DVRs, aren’t viewers becoming increasingly more likely just to pick and choose what they’re planning to watch, instead of become acolytes of a particular network? Perhaps the plan is that running promos of other, similar, shows during favorites will introduce programming the viewer wouldn’t have otherwise been aware of, but I can’t help but feel as if all it’ll really do is ruin the flow of the show people wanted to watch, and give them more reasons to stop watching altogether.

Adding breaks within PBS shows feels like the end of some kind of era, and the formalization of the notion that all television has to be built as modular pieces, working around the needs of the broadcaster instead of any true artistic purpose. It’ll be interesting to see how it affects the shows, whether the tightening of structure is for the good (Some PBS shows are flabby, let’s face it) or disruptive, or whether we’ll even really notice the differences. I can’t pretend that I don’t wish PBS would remain protected by “viewers like you,” and not have to worry about ratings or the real world, but that’s not the case. What I am wishing is that this isn’t the start of a slow move towards “regular” advertising making its way onto the station… although I worry that that, too, could be an ambitious dream doomed to an unfortunate end.


  • Lion_okitkat

    This is ridiculous and I expect they will be receiving a ton of complaints. What do they care about ratings anyway? PBS is funded by viewers, private funding, gov’t, etc. I haven’t had a job in a while and I gave them $25 last year because they show EastEnders on Sundays.They even hold traveling events with Burt Wolf I believe, with proceeds from that going to support the station/programming. Not to mention that viewers have to sit through there often times boring repetitive pledge drives. 

  • Janus31


  • Davenport

    I really do feel sorry for the Americans and the amount of ad breaks you have to endure outside of HBO. Watching the Simpsons on Sky with only one break it shocks me how many other fade outs there are in an episode.

  • Coryjameson

    It’s about time. Now they’ll have all those educational commercials. And all the shows will finally lose all that “objectivity” they had now that they have to cater to all those wonderful corporate interests.


  • 0bsessions

    You should probably consider researching the situation before whining to such an extent.

    There is a huge to do right now about the national budget and a big part of that is public broadcasting. PBS, NPR and other such networks are at risk of losing government funding right now. PBS needs to be prepared for that as, even though it’s a tiny dent in the budget, it’s one of those things that’s hard to justify when trimming the fat is absolutely necessary.

    Now, personally, I don’t really watch anything on PBS (I don’t watch much TV at all), but if it comes down to having to deal with a commercial break every quarter of an hour (Which isn’t much if you’re used to network TV or worse, watching sports) versus programming cuts, I’ll take the commercials.

    And it’s hard to sympathize with you over a whole $25 donation. Unless you’re budgeting around a paper route, that’s not exactly a huge donation.

  • 0bsessions

    It’s close to a thing of the past at this point. Just about everything I watch is either DVR’d or watched via Netflix. The only time I really notice commercials any more is when watching sports.

  • Ian Thal

    “There is a huge to do right now about the national budget and a big part of that is public broadcasting.”

    Actually, public broadcasting is a very small part of the national budget– the Corporation for Public Broadcasting only received $442 million in 2010– which when you consider the numbers served and the quality of the service, it’s very cost-effective. It just happens to be an institution that is  unpopular with a very specific political faction.

  • 0bsessions

    To be fair, my wording there was a bit off. When I said a “big part,” I meant that a big part of the “huge to do” was about public broadcasting. If you read on, you’ll notice I later added that “it’s a tiny dent in the budget.”

    The issue is that it’s a soft target. It makes for great speeches and posturing in regards to making it look like you want drastic cuts (Much like Planned Parenthood, which is a miniscule part of the budget).

  • Bass Guitar Hero

    It’s unfortunate, IMO, but necessary for PBS to pay its bills. I’m fairly sure it wasn’t something they really wanted to do, but had to.

  • Lion_okitkat

    I disagree completely with everything you’ve said and especially how you said. Isn’t great to come on the internet and be all snarky and rude to someone you don’t even know. someone who is just venting and expressing an opinion, which I guess equals whining.

    $25 dollars is a lot to me. I haven’t had a job in 2 years and I’m living off savings and financial aid for college. You have no idea who I am or what I’m going through ( chemo treaments). So I hope your happy with your snarky self important self. Ugh. Why do message boards always have to be so confrontational. 

  • 0bsessions

    Registering an opinion is one thing, whining is another.

    “I’m not fond of this development and feel this will hurt my enjoyment of the network” is registering an opinion.

    Conversely, prefacing just about anything with “this is ridiculous” is whining. You were coming off as petulant and entitled which is effectively the definition of whining.

    Where you go wrong first, and what was grounds for a response befitting your post, was to act as if $25 in an entire year entitles you to a lack of commercial breaks. I cannot spare sympathy or cordiality toward someone who’s exhibiting entitlement issues, nothing annoys me more.

    I will offer my sympathies in regards to your medical condition, but you got a confrontational response because you made a confrtontational post.

  • Lion_okitkat

    Confrontational or not ( confrontational is how I would label your response to my initial post) you could have chosen to ignore my post. Instead you replied in a confrontational and condescending manner (not once but twice). Once again you assume (not knowing who I am) that I have entitlement issues. So I guess your the bigger man. You won. Cheers.

  • Den

    Have you actually listened to any breaks.  They ARE commercials (I just listened to a commercial – yes a commercial) for a Chevy Volt on the NPR radio station in Las Vegas.  And PBS has been broadcasting commercials for decades.  I remember lambasting this on The New Yankee Workshop with three or four commercials for power tools at the beginning and end. 

    Would they please just admit they’re running commercials and be done with it?

  • Den

    And according to PBS, the amount they get from the government is very small.  So why are they chafing so much.  Let it go and get your freedom to run anything you want – like Air America.

  • Adam Hasser

    All I have to say is more Sherlock please.