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TV viewing to be plagued by a rising tide of snipes and bugs

As the new fall TV season kicks off, TV screens will be more cluttered than ever with on-screen graphics and ads, according to 'The New York Times.'

Banner ad on a hockey game
Commercials are increasingly impinging upon the programming.
Sports Media Inc.

Monday's New York Times highlights one of my growing pet peeves: increasingly invasive on-screen ads and information that are invading all manner of TV programs. The article ("As the Fall Season Arrives, TV Screens Get More Cluttered") explores some of the supposed reasons behind the trend, which runs the gamut from "bugs" (channel logos) and on-screen data dumps (news and financial market tickers, scoreboards), to--in my opinion, the top annoyance--"snipes" (animated ads, for either upcoming programs or sponsored products).

On news, financial, and sports programming, I'm a lot more forgiving of the screen clutter, especially when it's informational rather than ad-oriented. But it's those snipes that really get to me. TNT and USA are prime offenders, but the mainstream broadcast networks seem to be trying their hardest to lower themselves to those basic cable depths. The remote control has made flipping channels during commercial breaks a TV pastime since the dawn of the medium, but the rise of the DVR (strangely unmentioned in the Times' coverage) has exacerbated the problem even more: As more and more viewers record their favorite shows, a larger percentage of commercials are falling victim to the fast-forward button. And the networks know that you're pretty much stuck watching ads for The Bionic Woman, DirecTV, or Sunday's NASCAR race if they're taking up the bottom third of the screen during your favorite show. (The same goes for the increasing amount of flat-out product placement appearing in more TV shows.)

My problem with all of this is the declining value proposition of my pay TV service. If all these channels were free, being used as a sponge for advertising would be a pretty fair trade-off. But I'm paying $120 a month for this. Compare that to Netflix--less than $20 a month for access to tens of thousands of uncut movies and TV shows, and the worst you have to endure is a few of those (mostly skippable) pre-movie trailers and FBI warnings.

The other big annoyance with on-screen bugs and snipes is that they seem completely redundant in the age of digital TV. I don't need a big "NBC-HD" in the corner of the screen, or a "You're watching 30 Rock--next up: The Office." If I was dumb enough not to know that--any of it--I need only click the remote's INFO button (channel and program data), or the GUIDE key (what's on any channel now, or for the next week). That's true for anyone who has digital cable, satellite TV, or even most over-the-air HD programming.

Of course, I'm tilting at digital windmills here. The genie's out of the bottle, and anyone who watches TV is just gonna have to live with its transformation to one big advertorium. Just don't expect me to stop complaining about it anytime soon.