To Zap Or Not To Zap: Study Shows Advertisers Can Schedule Commercials To Battle Channel Surfing

October 08, 1998

LINTHICUM, MD, October 8 - A study of TV viewers' channel switching habits suggests that advertisers should schedule their commercials for the middle of programs and improve their media plans for preventing viewers from being overexposed to the same commercials. It also suggests that TV stations keep their lengthier breaks away from the beginning and end of shows. The study appears in a journal published by the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMSR).

The study examines the times when TV viewers are likely to switch channels during commercials. It identifies a number of patterns and observations for advertisers and television stations.

Flock Away From The Top

Among the factors studied are household category purchase history, how often an ad is repeated, whether the commercials is aired during a "pod" - or group of ads - at the hour/half-hour mark, and the length and content of the commercial. "Our results ... suggest that all time slots within a program are not the same," says the study. "There is a significantly higher likelihood of commercial zapping during pods around the hour/half-hour mark compared with other times during the program."

As a result, the authors suggest that advertisers try to avoid being slotted into these times or that they negotiate a rate reduction for these times. They recommend that prices for advertising pods located around the hour/half-hour marks should be between 5% and 33% lower than those in the remaining portion of the program.

They also suggest that networks reconfigure ad clusters so that they are located 10 and 20 minutes into each half-hour segment. Their recommendation is practiced in some countries, for example, New Zealand, and has been suggested in other studies as well.

Additional Results

The study found that the optimal number of previous exposures beyond which zapping increases is about 14 exposures for the segment of households that are most "zap-prone."

It also confirms that purchase history in the product category strengthens the case for segmenting markets more precisely on the basis of consumer attitudes and behavior. The presence of a brand differentiating message in a commercial - one that makes an explicit claim that only the advertised brand has an important feature - causes a small but statistically significant decrease in zapping probability.

Interestingly, the time of day during which a commercial is aired and household demographics were not found to be related to a household's propensity to zap an ad.


The study was based on data from a scanner panel of 1,712 households made available by NPD/Nielsen. The dataset contained product purchase and commercial viewing information in two product categories, spaghetti sauce and glass cleaners, for a two-year period from December 31, 1989 to December 31, 1991. The study, "To Zap or Not to Zap: A Study of the Determinants of Channel Switching During Commercials" was written by Dr. S. Siddarth, Anderson School at UCLA, and Dr. Amitava Chattopadhyay, University of British Columbia. It appears in the current edition of Marketing Science, a publication of INFORMS.
The Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMSR) is an international scientific society with 12,000 members, including Nobel Prize laureates, dedicated to applying scientific methods to help improve decision-making, management, and operations. Members of INFORMS work primarily in business, government, and academia. They are represented in fields as diverse as airlines, health care, law enforcement, the military, the stock market, and telecommunications.

Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences

Related Commercials Articles from Brightsurf:

Marketing study investigates impact of Viagra TV ads on birth rates
Marketing researchers found that an increase in advertising of erectile dysfunction drugs contributed to more total births in Massachusetts.

TV ads for psoriasis and eczema medications portray few people of color
Commercials from pharmaceutical companies advertising medication to treat psoriasis and eczema lack people from racial and ethnic minorities, according to research from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

Political ads have little persuasive power
Every four years, US presidential campaigns collectively spend billions of dollars flooding TV screens across the country with political ads.

Airing commercials after political ads actually helps sell nonpolitical products
About $7 billion reportedly will be spent this fall on television and digital commercials from political campaigns and political action committees.

Exposure to TV alcohol ads linked to drinking behavior
New research from Cornell University shows the more alcohol ads someone was exposed to, the more likely they were to report consuming at least one alcoholic drink in the previous month.

Brain measurements can reveal success of alcohol risk messages
By studying how our brains 'synchronise' during shared experiences, social neuroscientists at the University of Konstanz show if alcohol risk messages catch on in an audience and lead to a reduction in drinking.

Less advertising for high-calorie snacks on children's TV
The number of overweight children has increased significantly. Some food and beverage companies have signed a voluntary commitment at EU level to restrict advertising of foods high in fat, sugar and salt to children.

Study shows not only do e-cigarette ads influence adolescents, young people don't question them
University of Kansas researchers found that youths who don't smoke reported e-cigarette ads were appealing and memorable, and they accepted the information they presented without question.

Drug companies' sexually explicit ads reaching too many youngsters
A new study finds that though drug companies marketing erectile dysfunction drugs claim to be self-policing their advertising so that 90 percent of the audience viewing sexually explicit advertisements must be 18 or older, compliance is not being taken seriously.

Tweeting while viewing doesn't diminish TV advertising's reach and often leads to shopping
People watching 'social shows' like 'Dancing with the Stars' or 'The Bachelor' on television and simultaneously sharing their views on Twitter are more likely to be committed to the program and shop online, according to new research from Indiana University's Kelley School of Business.

Read More: Commercials News and Commercials Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to