Downton Ad-y


I’ve seen a lot of ads before, but that was ridiculous!

Tonight I discovered that the Seven Network had finally deigned to commence screening series 5 of Downton Abbey, five months after its UK début. I was really quite excited about that, which is probably a bit sad but there it is. I know I probably could’ve found the whole series online by now but I haven’t bothered to, so learning with less than an hours’ notice that it was on tonight was, in its own way, genuinely exciting to me.

Tonight I was also well and truly reminded of how much watching free-to-air commercial television sucks when you’re living without a Foxtel digital recorder. Over many years I became very used to having at my disposal a device which not only allowed me to record programs on both an ad hoc and an ongoing basis, but which also meant I never had to sit through an ad break if I didn’t want to. As a Foxtel subscriber I watched virtually zero free-to-air TV anyway, but the ability to skip entire ad breaks – a revenue raiser for the Foxtel channels too – quickly became an obsession and invariably meant that I never watched anything while it was actually being broadcast.

I moved house three months ago. The necessary bits-n-bobs aren’t available for a Foxtel connection as yet and I’ve found that I really don’t need it anyway. But tonight I was reminded, more than at any other time over the past three months, why I avoid Australia’s three commercial networks as far as humanly possible.

The advertised time slot for tonight’s Downton Abbey season première was 9:00-10:30pm. According to my phone, it didn’t start until 9:04. By 9:12, after just eight minutes on air, they’d already cut to the first of seven ad breaks throughout the episode, all coming in at between three and four minutes’ duration.

After the fourth ad break, Downton recommenced at 9:47 only to stop for yet another round of adverts at 9:52, meaning the show itself was only on air for a paltry five minutes during the thirteen minutes that elapsed from 9:43 until 9:56.

After the seventh and final ad break Downton screened continuously for 17 whole minutes, before cutting to the closing credits which, in that newfangled way, end up being illegible when they’re squeezed down to the bottom of the screen so the rest of it can be filled with an ad for next week’s episode.

So from a 90 minute scheduled time slot, we got 64 minutes of Downton and 26 minutes of ads. It’s so blatantly about the advertising dollars that it’s almost embarrassing. Would they ever consider cutting half the ads out, for the convenience of viewers, and squeeze the program into a 70 minute time slot with only one or two three minute ad breaks? Of course they wouldn’t. And millions of Australians every week will sit there glued to the screen, probably feeling exactly what I just felt about the whole thing… which also just happens to be exactly what I feel every single time I have to endure anything on the Seven, Nine or Ten Networks.

Seven’s always been the worst offender where adhering to advertised start and finish times are concerned. Somehow they just can’t ever manage to finish anything on time, particularly live or ‘reality’ series. They’re also shockingly bad at littering the screen with all sorts of detritus about My Kitchen Rules, The X Factor or whatever their program de jour is (Network Ten comes a close second on that count).

What to do? Start forking out for Foxtel again once it becomes available in the building me thinks. I can’t cope with getting up for that many cups of tea.

Just in case you were wondering, I loved Downton Abbey, as ever. Sometimes I just want to be Dame Maggie Smith!

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