Growing TV cover-up: Obnoxious pop-up promos - East Valley Tribune: Business

Growing TV cover-up: Obnoxious pop-up promos

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Posted: Tuesday, November 17, 2009 9:04 am | Updated: 3:07 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

NEW YORK -- Somewhere in the universe of TV viewers, there's got to be a person who actually likes those pop-up, on-screen promotions.

Someone who thinks, "Thank you, network people, for those useful, informative announcements that block what I'm watching to tell me what I'm watching, or tell me what I could be watching next, which will then be blocked by reminders of what I could be watching after that."

This is a happy viewer all right, and maybe he or she exists in some den or family room absorbing those intrusive promos that, for everybody else, undermine what TV networks are ideally in business to do: entertain, not tick off.

TV exists above all as a medium of escape. But how do you escape into a TV show when it's plastered with scene-stealing hype?

At least one Web site, stoptvpopups.com, serves as a sounding board and support group for an outspoken few.

But almost any viewer can cite annoying instances where a pop-up ad has upstaged a show's dramatic climax or obscured vital on-screen information.

Viewers hate the detective hero of "Monk" rising from the bottom left screen for eight or nine seconds of vamping, followed by a ghostly but distracting text line that looms for several long minutes to accommodate even the slowest readers: "Monk All New Tonight 9/8c."

The USA network's motto is "Characters Welcome." Well, that "Monk" message adds up to 21 characters, none of them welcome.

And what about TBS, where "Freakin' Sweet!" is an on-screen message plugging "Family Guy" episodes available on that network's Web site: "Very Funny" is TBS' motto. Nothing funny about those cover-ups for its comedies.

Viewers don't forget. Viewers still cite the giant fireball, complete with a whooshing inferno sound, erupting on the screen to promote FX's firefighter drama "Rescue Me." It makes them mad to even think about it.

That promo hasn't aired in two years, says FX spokesman John Solberg. Since then, the network has moved toward making "our air look cleaner, more theatrical," generally opting for a single line of promotional text that appears on-screen for about 10 seconds.

So maybe all is not lost to the pop-up-razzi.

But across the networks, the pop-up ad is alive and well and inescapable, undermining THIS show to shill for some OTHER show, which, when that show airs, will likely be defaced with promos for yet ANOTHER. And on it goes.

Even cartoon viewers like Marge Simpson get riled.

In a classic scene from "The Simpsons," Marge realizes the TV screen that frames her is cluttered with visual promos. She takes a hand vacuum and sucks up the "American Idol" logo. When a squad of football players plugging "Football on Fox" swarms across the bottom of the screen, she sprays them with insecticide.

"Can't anyone just watch the show they're watching?" Marge sighs.

The short answer to her question, of course, is no. You shelled out hard-earned money for a big, magnificent flat-screen - and the networks seem to be poaching more and more of it!

An industry term for these ads is "one-thirds." More telling terms include "snipes" and "violators." But they began innocently more than two decades ago, when CNN applied a small identifying logo (or "bug") to the bottom right corner of the screen.

Other networks fell in line by similarly branding their news telecasts.

Then Fox began accenting its prime-time entertainment with a logo flashed before and after each commercial break. Other networks followed suit.

Then, on Sept. 11, 2001, the day's torrent of news spilled onto a supplementary text crawl on the screens of CNN, MSNBC and Fox News Channel. It remains, a permanent fixture at all three networks.

After that, with viewers increasingly conditioned to absorb extra data on the screen, many networks asked themselves: Why not take the next step and blast the audience with promos - TiVo-proof and unavoidable - embellishing entertainment shows?

They did. And how!

The only question for the networks after that has been: Just how big, protracted, animated and noisy can we make those promos before viewers flee to places like Netflix and Hulu, and take that one-third back?

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