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Tue, Jul 27, 2004 - Page 12 News List

Viewers in Britain tune in to an all-ad satellite channel

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Television commercials have become so fashionable in Britain that a new satellite network, the Advert Channel, has begun showing them 24 hours a day.

"People love commercials," said Vince Stanzione, managing director at the network, which has headquarters outside London. Marketing for the Advert Channel takes the same stance, with slogans like "Everything you'd see on a normal TV channel -- except the programs."

Advert Channel programming includes chatty hosts introducing featured spots, viewers voting on which commercials they want to see next and shows like Ad Chat, Adverts for You and Advert Focus tackling their subjects from various angles.

Given the success that American versions of British programs occasionally achieve, could some kind of Advert Channel play in the US? Stanzione, for one, sees potential. "I'm surprised nobody's done it," he said.

But Americans may not want much more marketing at all. A study conducted this spring by Yankelovich Partners, a marketing consulting company, found that 65 percent of consumers felt constantly bombarded by too much advertising. More ominously for the traditional commercial, 69 percent said that they were interested in products and services that would help them skip or block ads.

The idea of an all-commercial channel found a mixed response at Commercial Alert, an advocacy group whose mission statement includes a commitment to limit the reach of commercial culture to "its proper sphere."

"We hope this is the future of advertising, that it will be segregated to one channel and the rest can be ad-free" said Gary Ruskin, executive director at Commercial Alert.

Failing that, Ruskin said, the commercials-as-entertainment approach is just another instance of "ad creep."

"There are ads in almost every nook and cranny of our culture," he said.

"I think more people would rather bang their heads against the wall than watch more ads," Ruskin said.

There is some precedent for advertising-as-programming in the US, in the form of nine years of specials on ABC called The Best Commercials You've Never Seen (and Some You Have).

These two-hour specials achieved high ratings with a mix of foreign commercials, collections of spots revolving around music, "guess the product" segments and lots of humor throughout, said Tracey Baird, a producer at Dakota Pictures who worked on all nine shows.

The first special highlighted the 1984 commercial from Apple Computer that started the tradition of spectacular "event" advertisements during the Super Bowl. In the spot, someone runs into a room and smashes an image of a Big Brother-type face with a hammer.

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