Reducing Ad Load Easier Said Than Done for Fox; NBCU’s Rollout Smoother

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NEW YORK – Fox Networks Group’s plan to reduce Sunday night ad time by 40 percent has hit a snag, according to AdAge. 

Fox originally said it would run the reduced ad schedule on up to 40 Sunday nights of the upcoming season, but AdAge says so far just two Sundays in October and one Sunday in November will see fewer ads.

Fox is reportedly still selling its one-minute commercial breaks, dubbed "just A-and-Z" pods, or “Jaz” for short. (The Jaz pod gets its name from the "A" and "Z" positions in a typical commercial break, the first and last ones to run.)

Fox pitched its idea for limited commercials before its upfronts presentation to advertisers in May. But the execution has changed course along the way, and one media buyer told AdAge that Fox comes out “every other day … with a new way to sell it." 

Some speculate the roadblocks have come both from Fox's affiliates and its programming division. Fox's head of ad sales Joe Marchese had been talking with affiliates in an attempt to move local ad breaks out of many Sunday nights, but it doesn't appear that he'll have deals in place in time for this year's upfront negotiations.

But the limited commercial format also caught the attention of Seth MacFarlane, and Fox is now exploring the possibility of selling Jaz pods in the entire season of MacFarlane's sci-fi dramedy "The Orville," which will return midseason on Thursdays.

Fox is also selling Jaz pods in shows like "Wicked Tuna" on National Geographic and "The Weekly" on FX. And it's holding some inventory aside in the hopes of adding more Jaz pods to additional Sunday nights or other nights of the week, according to buyers.

Insiders say NBC Universal’s rollout of limited ad time has been smoother. It’s selling prime pods, one-minute breaks that will take up the first commercial break of a show. That would essentially create a limited commercial experience in the first 20 minutes of a program.

The plan is to cut the number of ads in NBCU's original prime-time programming by 20 percent next season and decrease ad time by 10 percent.

Unlike Fox, which plans to fill any time freed up by reducing commercials with longer-form branded content called "Fox blocks," NBC will extend the content of its shows.

Linda Yaccarino, chairman of advertising and client partnerships for NBCU, said that with so many consumers now watching TV and video content on platforms that have either limited commercials or none at all, broadcast network “commercial overhaul was … inevitable.”