is the use of a remote control device (RCD) to avoid commercials
by switching to another channel. The process is often paired with
"zipping," fast-forwarding through the commercials in recorded programs.
Although zapping and zipping have received much attention recently,
viewers have always avoided commercials by changing channels, leaving
the viewing area or simply shifting their attention away from the
set. But as the penetration of RCDs increased to about 90% and videocassette
recorders (VCRs) to over 77% of U.S. households by 1993, advertiser
concern over zapping and zipping has accelerated. RCDs and VCRs,
combined with a multitude of viewing options on cable and home satellite
systems, have led to the zapping or zipping of 10 to 20% of all
commercials, according to some industry studies. Cable networks
specializing in short form programming (music videos, news stories,
comedy shorts) are well suited to filling commercial breaks. Thus,
the once "captive" audience of television is exercising its option
to zap or zip boring or annoying commercials. Indeed, several studies
of RCD gratifications have consistently identified commercial avoidance
as a major motivation to use remote control devices.
the 1980s, RCDs and VCRs proliferated, while the advertising and
television industries debated the relative impact of zapping and
zipping. Advertisers argued that program ratings did not reflect
decreasing audience attention to commercials, while broadcasters
cited studies that minimized the increase in channel changing during
commercials. Several studies showed that the content of a commercial
greatly affected the degree of zapping, encouraging many advertisers
to restructure their television commercials by focusing on more
entertaining content, fast-paced editing, or high quality special
effects. When research showed that commercials placed during sports
programming were particularly susceptible to zapping, some advertisers
responded with commercials that combined both program and advertising
elements. For example, IBM's "you make the call" commercials inserted
an advertising message between question and answer segments of a
sports quiz. Advertisers also tried to thwart the RCDs' impact through
more careful audience targeting and by reducing the length of some
commercials. As the decade wore on, advertisers increased their
use of place-based advertising and integrated marketing to replace
the ad exposures lost to zapping and zipping.
some observers see RCD enhanced zapping as a modest intensification
of the television audience's long standing urge to avoid bad commercials,
others have argued that zapping will lead to gradual structural
changes in the commercial television industry. Refinements in RCDs
and VCRs may make zapping and zipping even easier. Thus, as these
two sources of commercial avoidance decrease the value of commercially
sponsored programming, advertisers may continue to shift resources
to other advertising media and marketing approaches, or begin to
offer compensation to viewers for simply watching commercials. Program
providers may need to seek other revenue streams such as pay-per-view
and subscriber fees to replace the lost revenue from advertisers.
The result of these structural changes may be fewer viewing options
for those unable or unwilling to pay these new charges and a wider
gap between the information and entertainment haves and have not's.
Ainslie, Peter. "Commercial Zapping: TV Tapers Strike Back; VCR
Owners Are Skipping Station Breaks, and Advertisers Are Getting
Worried." Rolling Stone (New York), 28 February 1985.
Jr., R.V., and J.R. Walker. Grazing On a Vast Wasteland: The
Remote Control and Television's Second Generation. New York:
J.R., and R.V. Bellamy, Jr., editors. The Remote Control In the
New Age of Television. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 1993.