Jun 24, 2022

I want to set you a challenge.

It’s fairly trivial – nothing world-changing here. I just want to see if this is an actual thing, or if it’s just me. And I am perfectly prepared to accept it is just me, or even that it is purely coincidental. Go with me on this.

The thing I want to test is: how come, pretty much every time I channel-surf the commercial TV channels, I seem to land not the programme, but on the ads?

Picture the scene. I’ve switched on the TV, and say I have come in on BBC1. So far, so good. But say there’s something showing on the Beeb that I am not interested in, like EastEnders or football. So I will idly flick over to BBC2…

Gardening.

So on to ITV. It’s on the ads.

How about Channel 4? Also on the ads.

Or maybe Channel 5? Ads again.

And so on. You get the idea.

And it always seems to be that I land at the beginning of a very long ad break – so long in fact, that I have completely forgotten which programme I was expecting to see (although please see my previous article on my poor short-term memory).

When I first became sensitised to this phenomenon, I was merely amused in a wry sort of way. But over time I am beginning to wonder if it really is a thing. A statistical anomaly. An obsession, even…

Or am I overthinking this? (don’t answer…). Is it just because I am truly sensitised to it? That when I land on the ads, it reinforces my perception that they follow me around the channels, like some malevolent little personal rain cloud? Which means that when I actually do land on a programme, it doesn’t support my hypothesis, so it doesn’t register? Or maybe it’s like Schrodinger’s Cat – just before I arrive, the commercial channel is happily showing their programme, but the millisecond I switch onto it, the ads come on?

Or then again, perhaps it is something to do with statistics – that a certain percentage of hourly airtime is ads, so my probability of switching over at ad-time is statistically high enough to ensure it happens very often? And there’s another possibility – to do with the timing of my channel-surfing. Maybe when I swap channels after a programme is finished, I am increasing my odds of hitting the ads? That’s because all the commercial channels are also between programmes.

Not that I have anything against ads, mind you. I had a long and worthwhile career in marketing before establishing myself as a full-time publisher and author, and was involved in the creation of a fair few ads myself. It’s just that I want to watch the programme, not be enticed for the umpteenth time to book a family holiday (I’m single), or try a breathable memory foam mattress topper for 60 days, whether or not it has a full money-back guarantee. Incidentally, if you ever watch Wheeler Dealers – my Saturday morning guilty pleasure – you’ll know that a mattress topper ad can somehow be spun out for the full duration of a break, which is a very long time indeed. And while I am on the subject, there’s a woman who does the all-too frequent ads for a prize draw to win a £million house, who has the most condescending and annoying voice I have ever, ever heard. I am sure she’s a lovely person and all that, but her voice sets my teeth on edge. Sorry, but there it is.

So here’s my challenge. See if you also seem to hit the ads more often than you would statistically expect, when you surf onto a commercial TV channel. Don’t keep a score, or jot it down in a notebook or anything like that, which, let’s face it, would be a bit weird. No, just build an impression of whether or not the sod’s law of ad breaks applies to you as much as I think it does to me. See how often you say, ‘Oh no, not the ads again…’ before pressing the ‘channel up’ button and moving from, say, a ‘cinema verité’ ad for home intruder alarms, to perhaps a ‘slice of life’ one for a bank.

And if it does now become a ‘thing’ for you, that takes you beyond ‘wry amusement’ into the realm of ‘this is an obsession’, then I am truly, truly sorry. Maybe it will all seem better after a good night’s sleep.

In which case, how about trying a new mattress topper?