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What Can Streaming Services Do About Annoying, Repetitive Ad Breaks?

Jeff Kotuby

If I say the words, “french vanilla, rocky road,” how many of you will instinctively follow with “chocolate, peanut butter, cookie dough” just from watching so much ad-supported streaming these days? You’re not alone if you’re tired of the same commercials popping up during your ad breaks.

A new report by Bloomberg shares the story of Ben Chappell, a 37-year-old “X-Files” binger who suffered through repetitive and abundant ad breaks featuring sports betting companies (Ben lives in Colorado, where sports gambling is legal) and more. “It’s complete overkill,” said Chappell. “Maybe I’d watch them if it wasn’t the same commercial over and over.” Chappell has considered the ad-free version of Hulu but instead just voices his frustrations on social media rather than pony up the extra cash per month (like many of us.)

Ad-supported streaming is a lucrative business, to say the least. According to eMarketer, U.S. advertisers will spend $11.36 billion in 2021 on streaming commercials, up from $8.11 billion in 2020. Why the dramatic increase? It comes down to the number of ad-supported services that are popping up.

Outside of the free TV streaming services like PlutoTV and Tubi, and ad-supported free services like those provided by Amazon Prime through, there are newcomers to the ad-supported paid streaming game — namely, HBO Max, discovery+, Paramount+, and Peacock. The latter three already have their ad-supported tiers available, while HBO Max will add its ad-supported tier later this year. Hulu’s had an ad-supported tier for years, but we’ve seen them become much more annoying with their ad placements recently. While not technically a service like the rest, YouTube has seen an increase in annoying, invasive ads — in some cases, forcing viewers to watch 15-second ads that are longer than the 10-second videos people are trying to watch.

Is there anything that can be done to stop this? Not likely, as advertisers love streaming services in a way they can’t love television. Since streaming services say they can offer more precise ad targeting than traditional TV, using demographic data and even verbiage from the shows themselves to guide ads — something TV just can’t do. To balance this out, ad breaks are “promised” to be limited to certain thresholds, such as under five minutes in an hour of viewing, ad breaks shorter than 30 seconds, or shown only while content is paused. It doesn’t do anything about seeing the same Geico commercials 100 times in a row, but at least it’s some sort of a compromise — and it’s still less advertising time than linear TV offers.

Perhaps hearing that animated GrubHub commercial for the 47th time in a row is exactly what these services are counting on to push you to an ad-free tier.

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