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TV ad loads are expected to shrink in the face of pressure from video platforms such as Netflix that lack ads, and there have been rumblings from various networks about decreasing their ad loads. But has that happened yet? Research from Kantar Media suggests that ad loads during primetime national TV remain high, with no significant downward momentum.

Kantar Media examined national primetime TV ad loads for various broadcast and cable networks for the 5-quarter period from Q1 2017 through Q1 2018. While the release focuses on paid ad time, it also provides data on total ad time, which includes promos and public service announcements (PSAs).

Broadcast Networks’ National TV Primetime Ad Loads

ABC had the highest total ad loads during the first quarter of the year, per the analysis, with each hour in primetime averaging 17 minutes and 40 seconds of total ad time. That was considerably higher than CBS (14:26), NBC (13:45) and FOX (12:44).

However there was more parity among the networks when factoring in just paid ad time. In fact, on that basis CBS had the highest ad loads, with 12 minutes and 9 seconds of paid ads per hour of primetime programming. That was slightly higher than the paid ad time for ABC (12:02) and NBC (11:42), with FOX again considerably further back (10:13).

The trends show that ad loads have remained largely steady over the past year. ABC’s Q1 2018 total ad time was only 2 seconds less than in the year-earlier period, and remained within the range set over the 5-quarter period. FOX’s total ad time in Q1 was a second longer than in the previous year, having declined from a peak in Q3 2017. And while CBS’ total ad time in Q1 of this year was 11 seconds less than in the year-earlier period, it was 20 seconds longer than in the previous quarter. Again, these changes are in seconds, rather than minutes! Even NBC, the network with the largest year-over-year decrease in total ad time shrunk its load by just 24 seconds.

As for paid ad time? It was largely the same, with only small differences in Q1 2018 compared to the year-earlier period.

Indeed, if there are any differences in ad loads, it’s not within networks, but between them: ABC’s leading total ad time in Q1 was almost 5 minutes longer than FOX’s total time.

Cable Networks’ National TV Primetime Ad Loads

As with broadcast networks, cable networks’ national primetime TV ad loads show more differences between networks than within them.

A&E TV Networks had the longest total ad time in Q1 2018, at 17 minutes and 48 seconds out of every hour of primetime programming. That’s the highest amount of time of any of the networks covered in the report, and represents an almost 1-minute hike from the year-earlier period.

Likewise Viacom sported a total ad time north of 17 minutes in Q1, though it was only a 12-second increase from the 2017 equivalent.

The other cable networks had total ad times in Q1 of:

  • 16 minutes and 30 seconds (Discovery Communications), basically flat from Q1 2017;
  • 14 minutes and 46 seconds (NBC Universal), up by almost a half-minute; and
  • 14 minutes and 9 seconds (Turner Broadcasting), down by just 5 seconds.

As with the broadcast networks, cable networks’ paid ad time showed little meaningful change between Q1 2017 and Q1 2018, despite some variances throughout the period.

Expand the above chart to see year-over-year changes in total ad time for each of the networks, and visit the Kantar Media data here to see the full data, including paid ad time for each network.

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