Given that an auditory cue is appropriately placed early in a commercial, the producer must also be aware that a large portion of the audience may just initiate full attention several seconds into the segment. This portion of the audience will have missed the very beginning of the segment. If that beginning is crucial to general comprehension of the message, much of that newly attentive audience will be lost again. After all, the majority of looks at TV are under 5 sec in length.
Finally, attentional inertia is a pervasive factor of cognition that can work both for and against the advertiser. It should be quite obvious that the context in which a commercial is placed will have important implications as to whether the beginning of the segment is watched, if indeed the segment is watched at all. A highly involving program will draw audience attention into the beginning of a commercial. The converse is also true; a program that requires little attention produces some resistance against attention being drawn back to the TV (see the lower functions in Figs. 8.3 & 8.4). There is an interesting tradeoff here: Intensely involving program content is probably good for the advertiser in terms of attention, but for many viewers, TV provides a backdrop for other activities. These viewers may avoid highly involving programs because they interfere with concurrent activities or with general relaxation. The attentional inertia principle also implies that nesting a commercial behind another commercial will likely produce lower attention unless the prior commercial is particularly effective in holding attention. In general, the producer should consider the attentional states of the audience through each second of the commercial, reflecting on the consequences of attention gained or attention lost at each point.
Researchers, of course, have not even come close to specifying all of the temporal dynamics involved in the online cognitive processing of television. After all, such research has been going on for barely a decade, and the number of active laboratories is small. In our work we plan to examine numerous aspects of attentional inertia, auditory attention, processing of montage, and the perceived temporal structure of audiovisual narrative. We will also carry out detailed quantitative analyses of home TV viewing behavior including behavior during commercials. I am quite optimistic about the future of this research. Although the work is expensive and often technically difficult, the effects are large and reliable, and the discoveries of fundamental significance both in practical application and in contributing to a basic understanding of human cognition.
The research described here was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, The National Institute of Mental Health, the W. T. Grant Foundation, Chil