Thursday, February 02, 2006

Italian Advert-Aversions

Comparing TV scheduling schemes

by Carla Diana

ROME, June 25, 1997 -- When it comes to TV [Image]
watching, Americans have accepted frequent
interruptions as a fact of life. A battering of
commercials intrudes upon even the most exciting,
heart-wrenching moments of televised drama. We just wince
and endure it like an inevitable pain, a recurring mental
hiccup during which we assure ourselves we'll be able to
restore the same emotional state we had before the
interruption happened. Commercials make our
consumer-oriented world go round; without them we
wouldn't have the newest shows or the fastest food or the
state of the art in carbonated beverages. We respect the
power of a system that has the ability to keep us
entertained round the clock, albeit with constant
reminders of how we can live longer, be thinner and act
smarter for less money and in fewer hours (freeing us up,
it seems, for more TV watching).

The Italians are not as tolerant of sponsors messing with
their TV time. They want their bread fresh-baked, their
wine mature and their TV shows intact. There are plenty
of commercials, but they're broadcast at the end of the
program in one long chunk. For example, instead of three
interruptions, each three minutes long, there will be a
single nine-minute break. This convenient lumping of
publicity is great for the viewer -- who is offered a
long break during which to grab a snack or go to the
bathroom -- but not so great for the advertiser.

Often the most important TV events in any given week in
Italy are the soccer matches. While 3-second, on-screen
brand-awareness flashes of corporate logos are allowed,
programmers haven't dared to schedule longer commercials
outside of the halftime break. Some fans claim the
non-ad-accepting nature of the soccer game as the main
reason why the sport hasn't become more popular in the
States. The action happens too quickly, and the structure
of the official soccer match doesn't offer long, regular
break periods during which ads could be sandwiched. No
time for commercials? Then there's no time for the
promotional spots that will make corporate sposorship
worthwhile, is there? Programmers could insert ads anyway
and risk robbing fans of juicy moments, but advertisers
in the U.S. opt instead for the more rhythmic (and
culturally ingrained) pastime of baseball, or the
frequently interrupted game of basketball.

The Italian tendency for wanting programs intact extends
to movies broadcast on TV. The puritanical censorship
commonplace in the U.S. -- preparing movies for TV by
cutting out questionable language, nudity, violence and
other naughty bits -- doesn't happen here. Instead,
movies not intended for children are broadcast in the
evening. The Italian desire to leave things intact
supersedes American emphasis on broadcasting any movie at
any time. In America, power resides with censors; in
Italy, with parents. Italians may demand better service
since they pay more than $100 a year for the right to
receive even the basic state-run stations. "Pay channels"
or cable cost extra.

Where the Italians have gotten it wrong is in the movie
theaters. Intermissions send lights blasting on suddenly
in the midst of a film, leaving the audience looking like
a pack of seated deer dazed by a glaring headlight. It's
horrible, but it allows people to go out for a smoke, ice
cream cone, or quick shot of espresso in the middle of a
movie. Furthermore, the movies prepared for Italian
theaters are usually dubbed, which is sometimes the worst
tampering of all since it means that the viewer must not
only trust that the dubbed dialogue is an accurate
representation of the filmmakers' intentions, but never
hears the real voices of the actors.

We Americans, perhaps spoiled by our stable political
structure, are too patient. We buy into consumerism with
blind faith that advertisers have more power than they
actually do. TV offerings have improved with cable and
digital satellite broadcasts -- they offer better, more
specific content -- but viewers don't get the most
convenient, uninterrupted service possible. Instead of
seeking better service by complaining to providers, we
opt for passive resistance by "time shifting." We zap
through commericals when we play them back, or invest in
VCRs equipped with a commercial fast-forward feature.
That is our secret revenge.

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This column is an exclusive.


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