Comcast Must Kill (Its Ads)

We’re already well aware of the hatred for Comcast embodied in Bob Garfield’s “Comcast Must Die” campaign. Now, we’ve got a call from Gene Keenan of the ad agency Isobar that Comcast Must KILL ads it runs on the bottom of its screens that viewers are forced to click through on the directory of shows, to view information about shows they’re interested in. In other words: Want to see information on what show you're going to watch on your (PAID) cable service. Click through this ad to see it.

It may sound crazy, he said, “but I called Comcast just about every day for awhile to complain about having to click through these ads. ... The tech people told me they get a lot of complaints about the ads.” Keenan pointed out to me that he especially resented the ads because he’s already paying for the service. “It becomes a question of, ‘who owns the screen?’ ” Keenan said. He said the ads, which rotated, could be for anything -- a consumer product, service, whatever.

I can imagine how the ad deal might have gotten done: Someone in biz dev or ad sales tells the other execs around a conference room table that if they could guarantee a certain number of impressions, especially in a choice group (he'd call it a "demographic"), they could get a big ad rate, and bring in some amount of millions more dollars at no real cost. From that business perspective, it's a slam dunk, and conceptually is kind of a replication of the cable model (which I’ve sometimes resented) of making viewers watch ads on cable channels we’ve already paid for. On the other hand Nickelodeon’s chief a long time ago said to me that it was those ads, more than the cable fees, that allowed the channel to produce the original programming -- everything from Sponge Bob to Jamie Lynn Spears’ “Zoey 101."

I understand the business argument. But how much is that ad revenue worth to Comcast vs. whatever ill will the campaign creates among the paying subscribers, who are apparently PO'd enough to phone in about it (and you can be sure, reading Garfield's blog, that it takes awhile to get through to tech support)? And as the options for getting the content through means other than cable providers increase, how long until there's enough people dropping the service that the business model must change? An ad exec at another agency told me they're already seeing a trend of people in the recently graduated from college demographic dropping cable TV service altogether, instead getting their favorite shows via the Internet, DVD, iTunes and so on.

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