In February, Times Media Company began rolling out a new advertising platform for when readers access our newspaper's content for free via a visit to the online edition at nwi.com.
As explained in a Feb. 12 business section story at the concept's launch, visitors to nwi.com watch a short 15 to 30 second commercial, featuring brands ranging from Campbell's Soup and Del Monte canned fruit to Red Bull Energy Drink and TV shows like "Real Housewives" and "Shark Tank," before being allowed to then access the stories and other free content of our site. By watching one commercial, only one time, every 24 hours, readers are granted entire access for a 24-hour span before being asked to watch another commercial.
This new feature to The Times free online edition prompted reader Cletus F. Epple, and many others to call, write or email me with feedback.
"Dear Mr. Potempa: I have enjoyed reading your column and the Celebrity Birthdays feature you compile. However, since The Times wants me to watch an idiotic commercial every day to read the paper I will regretfully have to quit reading full articles in The Times. If the paper needs money that bad, and maybe it does, then it should charge a subscription fee. That would be fair, I have subscribed to other papers. But I refuse to sit down like a dolt and watch a commercial each day. Sorry, just not going to do it. Thank you. Cletus F. Epple, Valparaiso"
Thank you Mr. Epple and other readers who took the time to contact me about the February launch. Like all companies and businesses, The Times is always trying and testing new ideas. In recent days, the platform using this commercial concept has been dismantled during the constant fine-tuning and maintenance required to manage such a massive 24-hour free (trusted and credentialed) online news source. I'm not saying the commercials have disappeared forever, but at least for now.
This reader/viewer discussion and lament about the distraction caused by commercials is an age-old debate. Remember our own Hammond broadcast/author claim-to-fame Jean Shepherd's "A Christmas Story?" Little Ralphie longs to hear the latest cliff-hanger resolved on his favorite 1930s radio show "Little Orphan Annie," but is forced to endure countless pitches to "Drink Your Ovaltine." Jack Benny's radio show, and later TV show, hawked Jell-O ("There's ALWAYS room for Jell-O"), and in later years, so did the characters played by Bob Crane and Richard Dawson on "Hogan's Heroes." With George Burns and Gracie Allen, it was sponsor Carnation Milk. The Flintstones relaxed with Winston Cigarettes, while Lucy and Ricky Ricardo hailed (inhaled?) rival sponsor Philip Morris Cigarettes.
While Aunt Bee only drank Sanka Instant Coffee, Andy Griffith told Opie about the "Mmmm, Mmmmm Goodness of Post Grape-Nuts." And Granny and Uncle Jed had to keep Cousin Jethro filled-up with plenty of Kellogg's Corn Flakes (which he ate out of a large mixing bowl, rather than a standard tiny cereal bowl) on "The Beverly Hillbillies."
And unlike our online commercial format, with these product sponsor examples above, rather than being clearly labeled as advertisements, the products pushed were just folded into the shows with scripted references.