Does Increasing Commercials Really ‘Ad’ Up Online for The CW?

Perhaps The CW has good reason to crow about new data indicating the high percentages of viewers who are watching commercials to completion despite the increased ad loads the broadcast network is experimenting with this fall in online streams of full episodes. But it feels a bit like a prison surveying inmates in solitary confinement about the gruel being slid under the door and concluding — voila! — they really enjoy the cuisine!

That’s because while an impressive-sounding 95 percent of the ads are being watched from beginning to end, it’s not like viewers have any choice. While the stat conjures up images of an online audience increasingly enraptured by a multiplying supply of commercials rather than just one per break, it’s worth noting that if viewers want to get through an episode of, say, Gossip Girl, there’s no fast-forwarding or changing the channel possible online unlike the way those options are available on TV. If you want to get through the episode, you have to let the ads play.

While CW can congratulate itself that the audience didn’t reject the increased ad load, it’s probably not the case that they enjoyed it, either. The more telling stats to come concern engagement: did viewers actually click on the ads to find out more about the products? It’s quite possible that while they didn’t close out of the video window, they just opened their Facebook or some other diversion in another window only to click back in once the audio from the commercial indicated the episode resumed.

It should come as no surprise that CW is trumpeting the findings considering its declaration heading into the upfront marketplace earlier this year that it would boost online ad volume as part of a move to combine TV and online sales. Doubling the commercials may actually be just the beginning of what’s to come if Nielsen’s long-delayed Extended Screen Initiative finally gets off the ground; that would track identical TV and online feeds. That would mean even more ads online.

Most interestingly, CW is stepping up its online strategy just as its fellow broadcasters appear to be shrinking from the challenge. That’s because of the increasing evidence that negotiation-bruised Fox et al may take cues from their cable brethren and begin limiting the amount of ad-supported streaming they do in pursuit of retransmission fees. If it’s not too careful, CW could end up more of an outlier than an innovator.