Smart ads aren’t so smart – so when will we fix streaming?

Radio Tomorrow with James Cridland

I watched a TV show on-demand the other day. It was a quite aggravating experience.

Before the show started, there was an ad to get the TV network’s app on Apple TV. I was watching on a smart TV anyway, so there didn’t seem much point in trying to sell me something I didn’t need.

Then, in the first ad break – which started four seconds into the second part of the program – I saw an ad to get the TV network’s app on Apple TV – the same one I’d seen at the beginning of the show. Then it played again. And then the second part of the program started (albeit already four seconds in).

The second ad break was eerily familiar. It started with the same ad to get the TV network’s app on Apple TV: nauseously happy people wearing bright cotton clothes on sun-kissed beaches. Then, I enjoyed a repeat showing of the ad – the fifth in less than twenty minutes.

The third ad break started with an ad for – wait for it – a website! Yes! How we cheered! Followed by… the ad with happy cotton-clad people on beaches selling me the TV network’s app on Apple TV, the thing I had absolutely no need for because I was watching this program on a connected TV app anyway.

I’m a futurologist, so having examined carefully the trends of this experience so far, it was my professional opinion that, if I continued watching, the fourth ad break in this show would contain at least one and possibly two ads for this TV network’s app on Apple TV, in all probability featuring cotton-clad well-toned people being deliriously happy on a beach somewhere.

I asked for a second opinion from my partner, who, sitting next to me, had also enjoyed the same ad six times so far and similarly wasn’t in need of an Apple TV app. She used to schedule promos on a radio station with 75 million listeners. Her eyes narrowed.

Given the looming and slightly depressing inevitability of all this, I switched the bloody thing off and we went to have a cup of tea.

Amusing enough, but radio often suffers from much the same thing.

Last week, Sean Ross posted “Alexa: play me some PSAs” – highlighting a US station he listened to that ran the same (sombre) PSA twice in one over-long commercial stopset, and a comment from a listener that online streaming was ‘Constant early-outs, late rejoins, crappy PSAs and fill’.

A few weeks ago, a listener to Absolute Radio’s streams in the UK pointed out that he suffered from a poor experience – split ads that don’t split well enough, plus that the filler material placed in these ads is rotated too often. 

My experience of personalised advertising is also not that great. The action of signing into my online accounting package means that I then get followed by ads for the accounting package all around the internet – because I visited their website. They’ve not been bright enough to remove the ads if I actually demonstrate I’m already their customer.

Meanwhile, memorably, a loyalty card scheme I once had with the UK’s largest pharmacy – from where I only bought men’s deodorant and razor blades – contacted me with offers on lipstick and tights.

This isn’t a technology issue, actually. It’s the people running these things who don’t monitor the output, or don’t care enough to set the right rules. Technology is very capable of ensuring a decent rotation of spots, and can be good enough to opt-out at the right time.

So, when are we (and I mean “the entire advertising industry” here, but we can just focus on radio if you like) going to fix this?

I’m pretty sure that our competitors – who don’t run 12 minutes of ads an hour – aren’t going to have these issues. And if Alexa and streaming are going to be radio’s saviour, what’s to stop our audience going somewhere else – where they care about what goes in the ad breaks just as much as what the next song is?


About The Author

James Cridland is a radio futurologist: a writer, speaker and consultant on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business across the world.

A former radio presenter, James has worked for stations and companies across the world, including the original Virgin Radio in London, the BBC, Futuri Media, Imagination Technologies and Seven Network. He has judged many industry awards, including the CBAA, ABC Local Radio, RAIN and the UK’s ARIAS.

He writes for publications across the world, and runs the worldwide media information website. He also runs a free weekly newsletter with news of radio’s future.  

British by birth, James lives in Brisbane, QLD and is a fan of craft beer.