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Oh My Tech!: The evils of network advertising, and what you can do

Published January 25, 2013 7:20 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Why do we have to put up with so many advertisements when we watch TV? After all, I have DirecTV, and it isn't cheap. Why do we have to watch a show that lasts two or three hours and have to put up with an hour or more of advertisements? This is highway robbery. I love my HDTV, but hate HD advertisements. ­— Bill Lockyer.

Now you've gone and done it, Bill. You've pressed my button on an issue that makes my blood boil. So stand back as I pontificate on why the television networks and TV providers are all greedy corporate thugs.

You've touched on the one thing that has been a growing problem in television as we've moved from over-the-air television to cable, satellite, Internet TV and now, mobile television.

In the early days of TV, a one-hour show such as "Star Trek" (the classic original, not the horrid "Next Generation," mind you) would be about 50 minutes long to accommodate 10 minutes of commercials. Today, a one-hour program is about 42 minutes long so the networks can add in an extra block of ads.

As networks begin to cut into that precious programming time with more marketing messages, it's not only making viewers mad, it's also starting to irk the producers who make the shows.

AMC, for example, got into very public fights with the creators of "Mad Men" and "The Walking Dead" over the network's demands that they cut the running time of each episode to accommodate yet another block of commercials. So now you get less of "The Walking Dead" and more commercial interruptions.

As TV evolves in the Internet age, networks and providers have been trying to find new ways of beefing up ad revenue, and it's become so intrusive that viewers are fed up.

A perfect example: Several years ago, Comcast realized that its onscreen TV guide — the electronic menu that comes up on your screen when you want to see what's showing on various channels — could be used to flash an additional ad. It used to have seven bars of television shows you could see on the TV grid at one time. But Comcast decided to eliminate two of them to put a banner ad on the bottom of the screen. The result is that useful information was eliminated.

Not that Comcast needs the money. After all, the media conglomerate would later buy a movie studio (Universal) and several television networks (NBC and all of its sister cable networks).

Another horrid example: A popular tactic that networks have employed in the last seven or eight years, especially the cable boys, is the banner ad that plays during a TV show. Say you're watching "Bones" and suddenly an animated banner for "The Simpsons" comes up, covering a third of the bottom of the screen. Talk about a distraction.

Hulu.com is one of the worst examples of this greed. The Internet portal for television shows costs $8 per month, and even though you're paying for the service, Hulu still inserts commercials when it streams episodes to your computer.

As far as making the networks and TV providers stop this ugly practice, there's no way they will. So long as they find new methods to squeeze out more and more ad revenue, they will continue to slip in advertisements wherever they can.

My best solution is to record your programs on a DVR (get one if don't have one) and fast-forward through the ads (a feature of DVRs that networks have been trying to outlaw, by the way). I do this with every AMC show.

The other option, which is not legal, is to download the shows from the Internet through a peer-to-peer trading system such as bittorrent and then stream the shows to your TV through a set top box such as a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360. But you didn't hear that from me. That said, the pirates/hackers who record those shows and upload them to the Internet actually eliminate the commercials from the episodes before they upload them.

Otherwise, we're at the mercy of gluttonous corporations who would rather make more money than provide us with a valuable service.

If you have a tech question for Vince, email him at ohmytech@sltrib.com, and he'll try to answer it for his column in The Salt Lake Tribune or on its website. For an archive of past columns, go to http://www.sltrib.com/topics/ohmytech.