A necessary evil: TV commercials

"We all know the feeling: you've been waiting a week for a new episode of your favorite show, you're fully engrossed, the tension is building, you're on the edge of your seat, and then... Commercials!

A man, a woman and a child looking at the camera full excitement.


(Bleep) commercials! Sometimes it feels like there's more advertising than actual show, but the fact is: no commercials, no TV.

Do or die

Television broadcasters can be divided into two groups: public broadcasters (including VRT1, Canvas, Ketnet) and commercial broadcasters (e.g., all VTMs and all Plays of today). The main difference between the two groups is the form of financing. Public broadcasters receive their budgets largely from the government. The others survive on, as the name suggests, commercial revenue.

Advertising is a dynamic interplay between businesses seeking to build brand awareness and market their products, and television broadcasters striving to generate additional revenue. Each commercial we see is the result of a significant financial investment. This financial model sustains commercial broadcasters, and more recently, public broadcasters as well. As a result, we can continue to enjoy high-quality Flemish television on our screens.

A women

What would you do with ten million euros?

Every day, we consume dozens of commercials through TV, radio, and online platforms, just a fraction of the hundreds, even thousands of other ads that appear weekly. This variance is largely due to the cost involved; not every channel broadcasts the same advertisements.


The larger the channel, the wider the reach, and often, the higher the cost. But we must also consider the impact of prime-time television and peak hours. These are all factors that companies take into account in their advertising strategies and budgets. Amounts with four zeros are increasingly becoming the norm, especially for larger corporations.

Convinced in an instant

For this very reason, commercials are crafted with care and attention: from the initial brainstorming about the subject and target audience, to the filming and meticulous editing. All to persuade the viewer in the blink of an eye. Because let's be honest: which beer do you prefer? A delicious, golden brew or its watery counterpart? Even though we can't currently judge the taste.

We see two beers. On the left a nice gold-brown colour, on the right more yellowish.

The challenge will primarily lie in making advertisements consistently creative, entertaining, and ethical.

A subconscious link

There are companies that occasionally launch an advertising campaign to spotlight something new, but there are also examples of companies that consistently create promotional videos. This sometimes creates an unconscious link, where certain situations immediately ring a bell. Think about when you have a crack in your windshield just smaller than a 1 euro coin, who do you call? This recognition fosters trust.

Broken glass as if there was a crack in the computer screen.

Getting advertisement airtime is a significant expense, but the investment is certainly worthwhile when executed effectively, as it can lead to a lasting income stream.

Bram - Videographer

Netflix and no chill

In recent years, the television landscape in Belgium has undergone a massive shift. The ability to watch with delay and skip advertisements has allowed people to bypass commercials. Commercial broadcasters experienced a decline in revenue as a result. However, every action has a reaction, leading to the introduction of non-skippable ad blocks.


A model that garnered little sympathy, but for TV networks, it was the only solution to stay afloat. Streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+ surged in popularity, introducing a completely new revenue model. You pay annual or monthly subscriptions that fund larger productions.


For now, it's very straightforward, but even here, pressure is mounting. Productions are becoming increasingly expensive, forcing the likes of Netflix and Streamz to make tough decisions: do we ask for more money for a subscription, or do we integrate advertising on our platforms?

Hey, you want to hear something funny? My dentist's name is James Spalding …

Chuck Noland - Cast Away

In fact, this transition has been going on for a while now, as modern advertising strategies are already taking a step further in the form of product placement. Certain products are seamlessly integrated into programs and series, sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly, appearing in shows like Stranger Things and Thuis. You can spot Coca-Cola cans, advertising billboards in fictional soccer fields, or the iconic Mr. Wilson volleyball in Cast Away.


This form of advertising capitalizes entirely on recognition. Seeing a product leads to purchasing, and companies are willing to spend a considerable amount of money on it. For instance, Heineken reportedly shelled out 6 million to quench the thirst of 007 in the film No Time To Die. It's a cost that will undoubtedly be recouped, but perhaps not immediately by Belgian beer drinkers...

James Bond sitting in a bar, pouring himself a Heineken beer.

A solution for every problem

Advertising is everywhere, but as the saying goes, "too much of a good thing can be bad." Television companies also notice that viewers are switching to online platforms more quickly. Online streaming is easily accessible, offers more flexibility in terms of time and space, and contains fewer advertisements. However, this doesn't mean that channels will reduce the distribution of commercial spots.


On one hand, they really need these ads to survive, but on the other hand, companies also realize the enormous reach that the television still commands. There's no form of advertising that generates more buzz. The challenge will primarily be to make it consistently creative, entertaining, and ethical.

First think, then do

So, companies are best advised to carefully consider what they aim to achieve. A strong out-of-the-box idea, a compelling message, a professional film crew, the most suitable channel... All of these are qualities to immediately make an impact on the viewer. Because getting viewers talking about your product, that's real advertising.


So, apologies to every loyal TV watcher, but advertising will most likely never disappear. Just know that it's for the greater good. This way, we can keep looking forward to a new episode of our favorite series (if it does not get cancelled of course).