The Evolution of the Viewer-Commercial Relationship 

We used to watch TV. Now we stream. As our viewing habits change, so do the way we engage with commercials.


The changing landscape of TV-land

It’s pretty amazing how much TV viewing has changed in recent years. Prior to internet streaming, we used to plan our schedule around TV programming. If our favorite show was scheduled for Saturday night at 9 PM, then we knew we had to plan ahead. If we wanted to watch the news, then we had to be home by 8 PM. And if you were a kid growing up in the United States in the 1970’s or 80’s, then waking up on Saturdays to watch morning cartoons was an absolute must.

Internet streaming changed all that. Our shows are now available to us on-demand, whenever we want. And if we happen to miss a live broadcast, then forget about “reruns” – we can always find it on VOD. We can watch shows and live events on multiple devices, from smart TVs to laptops and phones. For the most part, we no longer have to conform to programming. Rather, programming now conforms to our needs.

Our relationship with TV-based content has changed. So, it’s only natural that our relationship with the commercial break evolves, as well.

Our relationship with the commercial break

Viewers have always had an interesting relationship with the commercial break. In the past, we all viewed the same commercials, at the exact same time. And because we only had one chance of viewing our favorite TV shows (reruns were rare and no VOD), then we used the commercial break to get up to go to the bathroom, make a cup of coffee, or feed the cat. Some programming only had commercials between shows, and not during the actual show itself. The entire experience was traditional and rather bland. What made it interesting was the actual commercial content, which, from time to time, was creative, funny or even enlightening.

Prior to streamed content, commercials were something we had to put up with. But today, our relationship with the commercial break has evolved considerably. Here are some random thoughts on this fascinating evolution:

  1. Commercials have become personalized: Streaming technology allows broadcasters to target specific viewers with ads that cater to their individual preferences. It is interesting to note that viewers have become aware of this personalization. Many of them expect it. Some are even dismayed when the commercial doesn’t match. But similar to the music industry, the fact that every person/family receives different commercials “flattens” our relationship with them. There are more commercials than ever before, and they are more effective than ever, but it is becoming harder and harder for a singular commercial to penetrate the collective consciousness.


  1. Commercials can be avoided: Many viewers use ad-blocking tools that help them avoid commercials. In fact, some online TV stations do it too, by promoting content that can be seen without commercial interruptions, in return for viewer subscriptions. Plus, viewers that watch streamed content can often skip a certain commercial, which leads to the continuation of the content, or to a different commercial.


  1. Commercials can be shared: Due to online streaming, viewers can share commercials on social media, and generate an active online buzz. Obviously, this is what brands want most. It is interesting to note that for a commercial to be truly successful and to rise above the rest, it has to significantly engage viewers and be perceived as meaningful, genre-bending content. To make an impact, commercials need to be viewed, but to truly succeed, they need viewers to interact.


The bottom line

In the age of online content, commercials have more power than ever before. Due to personalization, their effectiveness as monetization tools has increased.

That said, viewers also have access to power that they did not have in the traditional TV age. They can now block, skip and avoid commercials. One of the most important values in the streaming era is a “seamless” experience, and in this respect, ads are often viewed as interrupters.

As the viewer-commercial relationship continues to evolve, it is clear that today, both viewers and commercials have unprecedented power to impact one another on numerous levels. Let’s see what the future will hold.