Twitch’s Interesting Commercial-Free Experiment (Brought to You by PlayStation 4)

Life without commercials -- wouldn't it be grand?

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We take for granted that TV shows have ads, this 72-year-old notion (93-year-old if we’re counting radio) that every so many minutes, the visual broadcast narrative is going to crescendo then cut off, replaced by pushers and hucksters and helicopter zooms on sleek automobiles darting around mountain turns like low-flying alien spaceships.

Some of us DVR past this stuff. Some of us turn the TV down or mute it. Save for the Super Bowl, I don’t know anyone who anticipates commercials, much less watches them riveted in place.

I hate being pitched. It’s how I’m hardwired. And given polling about ad receptiveness, I suspect more people in this country are like me than not. So I find what Twitch TV is up to — something they told me about last week and that I’ve had to wait until today to tell you about — very, very interesting.

The live-streaming, video games-focused Justin.tv offshoot is giving something new a shot, starting tomorrow, called “Commercial-Free on Twitch.”

Here’s the service’s pitch:

For the product’s first outing, Sony PlayStation 4 will be bringing Commercial-Free to Twitch viewers on Tuesday, October 15th, for 12 full hours between 9 AM PST and 9PM PST. During that 12-hour window, the only commercials viewers will see is a short bumper explaining the Commercial-Free program, followed by a brief Sony pre-roll, and then the rest of their viewing experience, regardless of which channels they may switch to, will be uninterrupted until 9pm PST.

In other words, “Commercial-Free” isn’t completely commercial-free — take note! When I asked Twitch to clarify what it meant by “a short bumper” and that bit about Sony pre-roll, I was told this:

When a user comes to Twitch during that 12 hour period, they will see a short bumper and then a 30 second commercial. In total, the bumper + commercial should be about 45 seconds. After that initial bumper + commercial, a user will have no subsequent commercials until after 9pm PT.

So yes, there is a commercial, it’s just the sort of preamble you’d see going into a YouTube video. On YouTube, after the ad finishes, you’re free to go about your business for however many minutes. Twitch is just blowing that up to 12 full hours. (I’m not sure what happens if you leave and come back. Update: Twitch says “Your cookies will remember you so you will not have to watch the bumper/commercial again during those 12 hours.”)

The idea here is that a “single premier partner” — in this case, Sony Computer Entertainment America on behalf of its forthcoming PlayStation 4 — pays Twitch to wipe the commercial slate clean for a given period. Imagine if that were the norm instead of the exception. Think what it might mean for content creators, no longer shackled by commercial pauses. Think what it might mean to you.

Twitch refers to what it’s doing as a way to provide brands with “the massive exposure and community good-will they desire while simultaneously delivering a meaningful ad-free experience that viewers appreciate.”

I usually bounce off those kinds of self-congratulatory claims. Not this time.

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