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Network TV that’s almost commercial free? That’s Fox’s hope by 2020

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Mar 7, 2018, 3:23 PM EST

Tired of sitting through 13 minutes of come-ons for products that make you wonder what TV advertisers must think of you? Wish you could just watch Lucifer, The Gifted, or The Orville like it were an hour-long streaming show instead of a set of neat vignettes frustratingly strung together by pharmaceutical and SUV ads?

Evidently aware that streaming TV’s largely ad-free appeal is part of the reason network television faces an uphill battle for market share, Fox is setting an ambitious goal of selling two minutes of commercials to every 58 minutes of content by the year 2020. 

Accomplishing that would require Fox to dramatically crank up the cost of ad buys — which, in turn, would require the shows it runs in 2020 to be immensely watchable. But the Wall Street Journal reports Fox is serious about finding new ways to justify paring back its commercial time from 13 minutes to two — and the reasons are evident.

“The move is in line with a trend toward fewer ads on TV, as consumers increasingly ditch ad-supported cable and broadcast television for ad-free streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon,” WSJ observed.

In the same report, Fox ad executive Ed Davis confirmed “[t]he two minutes per hour is a real target for Fox, and also our challenge for the industry.” Davis also went on to say that Fox has successfully reduced by 75 percent the amount of ad time it includes in its FX Originals on-demand titles, a move that has yielded “great effectiveness in brand lift.” 

Because there’s still no clear path that demonstrates how Fox would make the numbers work for broadcast TV, we don’t yet know for sure whether a shift away from conventional commercial breaks would apply to genre shows like The Orville or Marvel's The Gifted, or to Fox’s other programming avenues like comedy, reality and sports. 

But, as The Hollywood Reporter notes, cable networks already are trying a similar approach. “Turner Networks' TNT and TBS earlier revealed plans to reduce their ad load by as much as 50 percent, enabling eight to 10 more minutes of programming time,” THR reported, adding that NBC also plans, on the broadcast side, to cut by 10 percent the time that ads appear during each hour of primetime in the fall of 2018.

Is there a sweet spot where viewers can get ambitious and compelling content straight from their cable boxes, while advertisers find enough value to support the networks doing all the programming? Or has the Netflix model spoiled viewers on what’s possible when advertising isn’t a factor in determining not only what kind of shows get to see daylight, but how they’re presented? 

In short, what’s the future of TV look like? Let us know in the comments where you think we’re headed — or whether we'll ever see 58 minutes of genre TV with only two minutes of commerical interruption on any conventional network.