I recently curled up with some back episodes of "Scandal," ABC’s rather addictive show about crisis manager Olivia Pope, who often works for and is generally in love with the president of the United States.
Toward the end of season three, there was some high drama with the first family, right before a big live interview – when we paused for a commercial break.
An instrumental version of Billy Joel’s “My Life” played and this took over the screen:
At first, I barely noticed Larry or the blue-eyed woman in ads for the prescription eye drops Restasis, but both ads and a handful of others kept rotating through every commercial break across nearly four straight episodes.
“That’s a very common experience these days,” says Jim Nail, an analyst with Forrester Research. “That when you’re watching TV programs that are streamed either from the network streaming app or some other service, that you see the same ads over and over and over again.”
Nail says part of the problem is that the services and advertisers haven’t caught up with the way viewers binge-watch shows online – seeing Larry a few times in one episode isn’t a big deal, but, as I found out, string a few shows together and his presence can become irritating.
Nail says a bigger reason for the repetition is that there’s still a shortage of online advertisers. That's because ratings and demographic data about digital audiences doesn’t yet mirror the kind of data available for television audiences.
“There aren’t enough advertisers comfortable buying [online] to follow the model of broadcast television, which is 17 minutes of commercials an hour, which means 34 advertisers, give or take,” says Nail.
In contrast, an online show might only have a handful of advertisers, which keeps Larry and his online peers busy.
The growth in online video content also means lots of work for Larry, says Larry Chiagouris, a marketing professor at the Lubin School of Business at Pace University.
"You've got this volume of video that's just extraordinary," says Chiagouris.
Digital video advertising dollars are also climbing — 20 percent in 2013 — but "the amount of video that's available to be sponsored is probably five times that."
While there’s tons of content available online these days, Anna Bager, with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, notes that the amount advertisers actually want to buy is still relatively small.
In other words: Larry has standards. He probably doesn’t want to be next to someone’s shaky homemade YouTube videos.
“The inventory is scarce so advertisers tend to want to buy all of the inventory,” she says. This can include sponsorships, where ad spots might be sold to one or a limited number of advertisers.
However, Bager and Chiagouris agree there’s another reason for at least some of the repetition. Advertisers want to make sure their message gets through to distracted viewers who might be checking email, clicking around the internet or generally trying to avoid ads.
“Advertising is usually annoying, I think we kind of know that,” says Bager. “We may be incredibly annoyed with Progressive because their ad keeps showing up and it’s kind of an annoying ad in general, but when we want to buy insurance, we know that Progressive is an insurance company.”
Similarly, viewers might remember Larry and decide to open an account with Merrill Edge if they’re in the market for a similar product in the future.
Of course, they could also retain negative feelings toward Larry and decide to go with one of his competitors instead.
"I think generally advertisers instinctively believe that over-exposure to the same ad, the same night, with the same hour -- things like that -- run the risk that people are just going to feel completely bombarded and their attitudes will turn negative," says Forrester's Nail.