Ads on TV? What’ll Netflix Think Of Next?


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Reed Hastings, Netflix‘s

Co-Chief Executive, had a moment in 2015 when he vowed, “No ads on Netflix. Period.” After Netflix lost 200,000 subscribers in the first quarter of this year, advertising suddenly seems like a revolutionary idea.

Big streamers including Disney,

Peacock and HBO Max tiptoe down Madison Avenue. Amazon recently relaunched its ad-supported platform called Freevee.

Television technology is always changing, but the basic weights and measurements of the business remain the same. So you have to laugh when Mr. Hastings tells investors he’s starting to study the advertising game – which has been part of television for eight decades – and will try to “figure it out in the next year or two.”

The first television commercial that at least everyone can remember was a 10-second commercial for Bulova clocks in 1941, consisting of an image of a clock on a map of the United States with the announcement “America runs on Bulova time.”

In the 1950s, major corporations added their names to television series, giving us Texaco Star Theater, The Colgate Comedy Hour, and The United States Steel Hour, among others.

Advertising jingles were popular in the 1960s. A writer named Richard Trentlage came up with the idea: “Oh, I wish I was an Oscar Mayer Wiener, I really would like to be. Because if I was an Oscar Mayer Wiener, everyone would be in love with me.” (It shows the tremendous power of television advertising that I could type these lyrics from memory.) A recent marketing survey revealed that the most popular jingle these days is “Nationwide on your side”.

Soon “message ads” came into fashion with commercials like Coca-Cola‘s

“Mean Joe Greene” from 1979, a combination of football, coke and the civil rights movement. (A white boy gives a black athlete, Joe Greene, his can of Coke in return for a football jersey. “Have a Coke and smile.”) As cable television grew in the ’90s, viewers got more infomercials: masked commercials than whole Programs promoting products like George Foreman’s “Lean, Fat-Reducing Grill Machine.”

Perhaps the biggest breakthrough in ad-supported television came in 2007, when Hulu discovered that viewers would pay a monthly fee for programs that included commercials. Eight years later, Hulu began offering an ad-free tier at a higher price. It was as if a sneaker company were selling a more expensive version of their shoes that had the pebbles removed.

Netflix is ​​likely to reverse the offering, with a lower-priced alternative that comes with ads, leaving the top tier – for which the monthly rate recently increased – essentially pebble-free.

Streaming technology is actually a boon for advertisers as it allows for targeted ads and even triggers them when a program is paused. Streaming platforms also make it difficult to skip commercials, something many viewers have learned from watching broadcast and cable programs on DVR.

While Mr. Hastings is studying advertising history, he should check out the Nike ad Dan Wieden created, based on Gary Gilmore’s last words before facing a firing squad: “Just do it.”

Mr. Funt is the author of Self-Amused: A Tell-Some Memoir.

Review and Outlook: What began as a dispute over parental rights legislation has resulted in The Walt Disney Company losing special privileges in Florida — and serving as a wake-up call for other CEOs. Images: Reuters/AP/Miami Herald Composite: Mark Kelly

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Appeared in the print edition on June 3, 2022. Ads on TV? What’ll Netflix Think Of Next?

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