NEW YORK: In a bid to stop television viewers reaching for their remotes when commercials appear during their favorite shows, News Corporation's Fox Television network is piloting a novel approach in which ads are interrupted by . . . programming.

Fox aims to run short animated clips about Oleg the taxi driver who will share his special wisdom with the audience and recount spoof chats with celebrities.

Says Jon Nesvig, president of sales: "It's something that pops up that is unexpected and the viewer says, 'What the hell is that?' It may keep them around for a while longer."

Fox is not the only network seeking ways to mitigate the effects of Nielsen Media Research's imminent commercials ratings [ WARC News: 18-Jan-07] which will, for the first time, provide networks, advertisers and agencies with data on the viewing of individual commercials, including recorded ads.

The figures are widely expected to reveal a quantifiable sag in audience levels between programs and the commercials that surround them. These differentials will be used by advertisers to argue for lower airtime costs.

Fox will look at the Nielsen data to gauge the success of the eight-second Oleg snippets and examine traffic on a linked website.

The Walt Disney-owned ABC network is also mulling ways to encourage viewers to keep watching during commercial breaks. It has come up with the idea of making those interruptions less obvious.

President of sales Mike Shaw offers the example of a cast member of the Ugly Betty sitcom shown in a scene opening a magazine where a picture segues into a commercial.

Sales executives at NBC and CBS, meanwhile, are "trying to play with concepts to see what works". Avers the latter's president of sales Jo Ann Ross: "There isn't one thing that is going to work for every single client." She adds: "You may see us experiment in other day parts before you see us experiment in prime."

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online. additional content by WARC staff