I recently read that a one hour program in the United States contains typically 15-16 minutes of advertisements per hour. We’ve accepted that 25% of our hour with our favorite show will be advertisements, but the interesting part is how the ads are changing and what it might be doing to our psyche. The trend seems to be towards 15 second ads, based of course on the notion that Americans’ attention span is shrinking. Right now nearly half the ads are thirty seconds and the other half are fifteen seconds. If we watch a program with sixteen minutes of advertising we can see sixty-four thirty second ads, or 128 fifteen second ads in an hour. Of course, we see a repeat of the same fifteen second ad over and over so by the time we go to bed we’re seeing images of some Insurance guy as our best friend.
The point you ask? A fifteen second ad must be very focused and waste no time, just like writing a story in today’s market. The upshot is this. The average adult in the US watches 5 hours of television a day. Hmmm… That’s 640 fifteen second ads/day or 4480 ads/week, or 232930 ads/year. What? A quarter million? Ok, in reality some half of those ads are thirty second ads so you can cut that in half. That’s only 115,000 ads a year, or so. I neglected to ad in the YouTube ads we run into, or the pop-ups, or the focused Facebook ads.
There’s good news though. Children 2-11 years old only watch about twenty-four hours of TV a week so they’re only getting about two thirds as many ads. Whew, under 80,000 ads a year.
So what does this have to do with writing a Novel? It’s not news that structuring a novel has changed since Moby Dick. We want an audience, but we have to pull them away from the Internet, or the TV. We have to write short scenes, tight scenes, and gripping scenes. Considering that a thirty minute program has to tell a complete story in about twenty minutes of thirty second scenes, the challenge is evident.
Now, here’s my kicker. A prediction based on what I see on YouTube who appears to be the king of forcing thirty second ads and five second choices. I predict that as Amazon keeps growing the market for electronically formatted books, the time will come when after ten pages, an ad will pop-up before one can continue reading. Hey, nobody’s watching TV anymore, everybody’s online and the advertisers need to reach us somehow so we can know what we want.
My conclusion: Keep trimming those scenes, keep them short, keep the suspense high and always drop in a teaser for the next scene. You can buck the system but you can’t fight the evolution of the machine.