So it turns out that commercials might not be such a bad thing. A recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Research shows that test groups enjoyed a tv show more when there were commercials inserted.
In one experiement, two test groups were shown an episode of Taxi; one with commercials, the other without. The group who viewed the show with commercials enjoyed the show much more. According to the author, the theory is that commercials provide a contrast to the show. At each commercial break, the viewer is reminded that that show they were watching is much better by comparison.
I have a different theory, one that the Freakonomics blog shares: TV shows are written and edited with commercial breaks in mind. Some shows like Arrested Development and The Office make great use of the few moments right before those breaks. When watching those shows on DVD (while still great) the breaks suddenly seem slightly awkward. In other shows such as Lost or Heroes, the commercial breaks can give viewers a time to talk with others about what they just saw, theories they have about the show, or what they think will happen next.
Freakonomics sums it up nicely:
Filmmakers don’t seem to need commercial breaks to keep audiences interested. Or could Sam Mendes have pushed his Revolutionary Road into a Golden Globe for best drama by chopping it up with a few well-timed words from his sponsors?
The answer is “no.”