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Still, if you think TV shows have less "show" and more ads than than they used to, you're right. The amount of "clutter"--the industry term for commercials, promotional messages and other nonprogram content in prime-time network shows has grown from 13 min. 26 sec. in 1992 to an annoying 16 min. 8 sec. in 2001, according to the annual surveys commissioned by the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the Association of National Advertisers. So far, that total is not rising this fall. Network executives insist they have no intention of taking advantage of the ad boom by increasing adtime, at least not in the short term, andadvertisers despise clutter because they believe it damages the effectiveness oftheir messages. They're wise to worry, especially as increasing numbers of viewers find ways everything from established ad-free cable channels like hbo to such sophisticated new digital recording devices as TiVo to avoid commercials.
Everyone is trying not to kill the golden goose if indeed the goose is golden again. Thomas Wolzien, media analyst for Sanford C. Bernstein, is not certain that the networks' good times are going to last. "One of three things could be happening," he says. "A) The economy could be a lot stronger than we think; B) there could be a lot of pent-up demand from people who have been out of the market; or C) this could just be a last, desperate hurrah." There's a comforting thought to take to the bank.