September 27, 2023

On Night of Big Finales, ‘Office’ Rises and ‘Idol’ Falls

On a busy night of finales for television favorites, “The Office” regained a little of its former glory, “Scandal” demonstrated it may have more glory to come and “American Idol” looked like a pale shadow of past glory.

Even with “The Office” signing off for a last time, the big ratings news Thursday night was made by “Idol,” which ended a lackluster season — its 12th with a drop of more than 40 percent in the ratings.

The numbers for “Idol” and “The Office” were somewhat preliminary because both ran past 10 p.m., and their best numbers most likely came after the measured hour. But by Fox’s own estimate of where “Idol” will end up, its finale will be down 42 percent in the category its advertisers most care about, viewers between the ages of 18 and 49, from a 6.4 rating last season to a 3.7 this season.

By current network standards a 3.7 in that viewing group is a solid number, especially for a 12-year-old show. But for the once mighty “Idol,” it is a precipitous fall. It wasn’t even the best rating of the night in that group, topped by the 4.4 scored by CBS’s comedy hit “The Big Bang Theory.”

And over all, “Idol” shed more than seven million viewers compared with last year’s finale, with a total of 14.2 million viewers (by Fox’s estimate) down, from 21.5 million last season. Even more telling is the vertiginous drop from two years ago. That finale scored a 9.2 rating in the 18-49 group and attracted 29.3 million viewers.

As for “The Office,” the finale, which ran 1 hour and 15 minutes, recorded a 3.0 rating in the 18-49 group, the show’s best in 16 months; no episode has been higher since November of 2011. The finale also averaged 5.7 million viewers, the best since January 2012.

ABC’s “Scandal,” perhaps the hottest drama on television, had its best total viewer number ever, with about 9.1 million, and it matched its best rating ever in the 18-49 group, a 3.2.

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Media Decoder Blog: In Ratings Race, ‘The Voice’ Gains on ‘Idol’

3:51 p.m. | Updated Time, and maybe the presence of “The Voice,” seem to be catching up with the great TV ratings titan of the last decade, “American Idol.”

It is still too early to crown “The Voice” as the new king of the singing competitions, because in its first outings this season Fox’s “Idol” scored notably better numbers than the first two episodes of NBC’s “The Voice” this week.

But in its first week this season sharing the singing stage with the “The Voice,” “Idol,” a perennial ratings giant now in its 12th season, fell to its lowest-rated performances two nights in a row.

On Thursday, among the audience group that Fox sells to advertisers, viewers between the ages of 18 and 49, “Idol” dropped below a 3 rating for just the second time its history (the previous Thursday was the first time), hitting a low of 2.7 (or about 3.4 million viewers).

That was for one of the “Idol” elimination shows, which are traditionally lower-rated than the performance shows. But that number came one day after Wednesday’s “Idol” recorded the lowest-ever rating for a performance show, a 3.2 rating (about 4 million viewers).

Both numbers were down sharply from the prior week, from a 3.6 for the performance show and a 2.9 for the elimination show. While “Idol” generally trends lower in the middle of its season, one notable change took place on the network schedules between those weeks: “The Voice” returned on NBC.

That singing show was up from its performance in the fall. On Monday, “The Voice” scored a 4.8 rating in that 18-49 group; on Tuesday it managed a 4.1 rating (about 6 million and 5.1 million viewers, respectively). This follows up a fall in which “The Voice” convincingly topped Fox’s other singing show, “The X Factor.”

Does this make “The Voice” the undisputed champ of the would-be singing stars? That would not be a fair assessment – yet. But if “Idol” continues to sink, and “The Voice” sustains its numbers, that may be the inescapable conclusion by the end of this season.

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At NBC, a Struggle to Revive the Morning Magic

The employees were reassured that “Today” viewers didn’t want their show to turn into “Good Morning America,” the ABC rival that has become Americans’ No. 1 choice in the mornings. But then they were told this: “What matters most is the anchor connection to the audience; what we need to work on is the connection.” As the word “connection” was repeated, some people in the room started to chuckle because of a name that went unspoken: Matt Lauer.

“What they meant was Matt. But no one would say it,” said a senior staff member who, like the others, spoke on condition of anonymity.

Mr. Lauer was not there, but it is clear that the once-popular host’s relationship with his audience is in peril. Last April, Mr. Lauer signed a contract said to be worth $25 million a year, the most lucrative deal in the 60-year history of morning television. And then the bottom fell out.

The following week, “Today” fell to second place in the morning ratings for the first time in 16 years. When his co-host, Ann Curry, was forced out over the summer, it was Mr. Lauer and not network executives who shouldered most of the blame.

Since then, his popularity among viewers has plummeted and NBC has been forced to deny what was unthinkable a year ago: the rumor that Mr. Lauer, 55, who first took over the co-host chair in 1997, could soon be replaced by a younger host like Willie Geist, 37, or David Gregory, 42.

Mr. Lauer’s year is a lesson in how a combination of missteps — NBC’s and his own — can precipitate a star’s fall. NBC News is still, by some measures, the No. 1 network news division in America, and it will emphasize that point at a presentation for advertisers in New York on Thursday. But the continuing struggles of “Today” threaten to overshadow the network’s strength at other times of day.

“Today” pays a lot of the bills for the rest of the news division; it was responsible for roughly half a billion dollars in revenue in 2011. That total dipped by at least $50 million in 2012, according to industry estimates, as “Good Morning America” capitalized on the show’s stumbles. NBC declined to comment. But managers at NBC News were told this week that they would receive smaller bonus checks for 2012 because of the “Today” show ratings slump.

A belated image campaign began this week when Mr. Lauer spoke publicly for the first time about what he thought had gone wrong — namely, that his bosses botched Ms. Curry’s departure from “Today.” Those bosses took pains to suggest that Mr. Lauer wasn’t at fault. But the claim, in The Daily Beast, must have come as news to Ms. Curry, who, according to her associates, still feels betrayed by Mr. Lauer and the top producer of “Today,” Jim Bell, who left the show last fall.

Mr. Lauer’s Q Score — a measure of likability, treated as gospel by the TV industry — has fallen by more than half since he was paired with Ms. Curry in June 2011. It was a 19 that September; by this January it was a 9.

For the first time his counterpart on “Good Morning America,” George Stephanopoulos, has a higher score. For Mr. Lauer “the drop started happening in the beginning of 2012, and it’s slowly eroded since then,” said Henry Schafer of Marketing Evaluations, the company that surveys thousands of viewers to come up with the scores. NBC executives said its focus groups found otherwise.

Ms. Curry has been gone for nine months, yet “Today” is still losing to ABC’s “Good Morning America” by about 800,000 total viewers a day. (In the 25-to-54-year-old group, it is losing by fewer than 100,000 viewers.) The ratings are scrutinized now by NBC and ABC for signs that “Today” is stronger on the days when Mr. Lauer is on vacation.

He is criticized routinely in the media; one columnist this week said simply, “He’s got to go.” And even members of his own staff are sharply divided: some say he, and “Today,” can recover from the last year, while others say his reputation is irreparable.

The employees spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared retribution from Mr. Lauer and their bosses. They all agreed that his contract, thought to keep him at “Today” through at least 2014, would be his last.

While “we are aware of all the ridiculous rumors and gossip,” said Alex Wallace, the NBC News executive in charge of “Today,” “we would like Matt Lauer to be in the chair as long as he would like to be. We hope that’s for many years to come.” Mr. Lauer has declined interview requests.

Certainly Ms. Curry’s removal from “Today” hurt Mr. Lauer, just as he privately predicted it would, and just as his best friend, Bryant Gumbel, was hurt 20 years earlier when Jane Pauley made way for Deborah Norville in a similarly operatic situation.

In both Mr. Lauer’s and Mr. Gumbel’s case, NBC failed to shield them from criticism. But something more happened on Ms. Curry’s last day, June 28: seemingly every negative word ever uttered about Mr. Lauer was reprised. While he stayed silent, tabloid Web sites reran old items about his personal life and blogs said he was undeserving of his contract. All of this is still searchable on Google. The top 10 searches for his name include “divorce,” “salary,” “Ann Curry,” and “fired.”

Martin Kaplan of the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism said the suggestion that Mr. Lauer forced Ms. Curry out might be unfair, but it looked that way to many viewers. “TV lives by that illusion” of a family, he said. “Sometimes, it also dies by it.”

What NBC may do next, according to outsiders contacted by the network, is add another cast member to “Today.” Even if the person appeared only on the 9 a.m. hour, which Mr. Lauer is not a part of, such an addition would make “Today” more of an ensemble show, seemingly less dependent on his star power.

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Media Decoder Blog: Winter TV Schedule Brings Shift in Ratings Race

7:07 p.m. | Updated The television season continues to generate big shifts in the ratings, with cable shows still dominating over most network offerings on Sunday nights and Fox overtaking a flagging NBC for the season.

NBC was No. 1 throughout the fall in the category it sells to most advertisers — viewers between the ages of 18 and 49. CBS, riding the Super Bowl, quickly surpassed NBC in February, and now Fox has cruised by the peacock network, too.

Even though its once dominant “American Idol” continues to erode, Fox has put together enough of a winter season — with the addition of the solid new drama performer “The Following” — to pass NBC. As of last week, Fox is now averaging a 2.6 rating in that 18-49 group, ahead of NBC’s 2.5. Last week, NBC was still ahead by one-tenth.

CBS is well ahead with a 3.1 rating. ABC, the only network that cannot rely on big sports numbers to push its ratings, is in last place for the season with a 2.3 rating. (Virtually all the sports its parent, Disney, owns rights to, including the N.F.L. and N.C.A.A. football, are on ESPN.)

ABC did, however, get positive ratings news this week from its venerable reality series “The Bachelor.”

This season’s “Bachelor” finale hit a 3.3 rating Monday night, up from a 2.8 for the previous season. And its follow-up special, “After the Final Rose,” did even better, scoring a 3.8 rating, up from a 3.3 last year. The three-hour block was easily the best performer on television Monday night.

ABC is looking to ride the apparent popularity of this bachelor, Sean Lowe, to further ratings improvement. He has been cast on the next edition of “Dancing with the Stars,” which starts Monday.

The network also hopes to put the future wedding of Mr. Lowe and his rose choice, Catherine, in prime time, as soon as possible. (The couple announced on the special Monday night that they would sacrifice their privacy for a TV wedding spectacular.)

Soon might mean within this season, and give ABC a chance to catch NBC for third place (though that is still unlikely); but it would also give ABC the chance to televise the event before the relationship sours, as virtually all the “Bachelor” relationships have.

No matter what happens with Mr. Lowe, dancing or getting married, his block of programming is unlikely to reach the heights now routinely attained by “The Walking Dead” on AMC on Sundays. Once again, that show dwarfed all network competition this past week, scoring a 5.7 rating in the 18-49 group, with 11.46 million viewers.

Only “60 Minutes” on CBS had more viewers Sunday night, with 11.58 million. But cable has another blockbuster on Sundays: the second episode of “The Bible” on The History Channel came in third, with 10.82 million viewers.

That was down from 13.1 million for the show’s premiere, but still represents a huge number for cable. “The Bible” also scored a 2.5 rating among the 18-49 group, which was beaten only by “Family Guy” on Fox with a 2.7 rating.

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Media Decoder Blog: With Roberts Back, ‘Good Morning America’ Looks to Widen Ratings Gap Over ‘Today’

Robin Roberts is back from a nearly six-month medical leave of absence, a fact that ABC’s “Good Morning America” celebrated with a special broadcast on Wednesday.

What comes next, both on camera and off, will be worth watching.

ABC is hopeful — though no one at the network said this aloud on Wednesday — that having Ms. Roberts back on the set will help “Good Morning America” widen the ratings gap with its archrival, NBC’s “Today” show. The next few months are crucial for both shows because a large amount of advertising inventory is sold in advance each spring.

“Today,” which until last year was solidly No. 1 in the morning ratings, makes more ad revenue than “G.M.A.” — as much as $150 million more, according to one firm’s estimate. But the tables have turned, and “G.M.A” is now beating “Today,” albeit slightly, among the 25- to 54-year-old viewers whom advertisers pay to reach. If “Good Morning America” can achieve up more victories, and more sizable victories, ABC will benefit.

There are also more practical, and more personal, reasons why the coming months are going to be noteworthy. Ms. Roberts, who left “G.M.A.” in August after she was found to have a rare blood disorder and subsequently underwent a grueling bone marrow transplant, is on the mend, but she does not have her full strength back yet. Her doctors say they are monitoring her recovery very carefully, in essence protecting her from herself, since by all accounts she wants to be back at work full time already.

“They’ve got their hands on the red brake,” said Ben Sherwood, the president of ABC News, in an interview during the broadcast on Wednesday.

That said, a doctor will not necessarily accompany her to work every day. The main precaution at the “Good Morning America” studio seems to be extra hand sanitizer to avoid the spread of germs that could sicken Ms. Roberts, whose immune system is still relatively weak.

“What we want everybody to know is, this is a journey where she’s going to be back some days, and she’ll take some time off some days,” Mr.
Sherwood said.

Tom Cibrowski, the top producer of “G.M.A.,” echoed Mr. Sherwood’s points in an interview after the show. “We are watching this very closely,” he said. Substitute hosts for Ms. Roberts will be on standby for the days she doesn’t feel well enough to host.

Ms. Roberts said she didn’t feel especially tired after her two-hour hosting blitz on Wednesday. She did notice some problems with her vision, however, since she had not been under the bright studio lights for such a long time since August.

Many curious viewers in addition to the show’s usual five million a day probably tuned in for her comeback show, since it was promoted for two straight weeks on the ABC network and on the Web. The network has a big opportunity to lure some of those casual viewers back on Monday, when it runs a special edition of “Good Morning America” the morning after the Academy Awards. ABC’s telecast of the awards show is usually the network’s highest-rated night of the year, and “G.M.A.” gets a big bump the morning after.

ABC said on Wednesday that Ms. Roberts, as well as the rest of the cast, would fly to Los Angeles for the awards over the weekend. Ms. Roberts will travel on a charter aircraft to minimize exposure to the germs of other passengers. She will appear on the network’s awards preshow and on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” afterward, then wake up early for “G.M.A.” on Monday.

“This anniversary of the Oscars is very meaningful for her,” Mr. Sherwood said, because it was there last year when she felt the first signs of the disorder that was diagnosed in April.

Before she leaves for Los Angeles, Ms. Roberts will tape an interview with Michelle Obama. It will be shown on ABC on Tuesday.

Mr. Sherwood, when asked if Ms. Roberts would ever return to a five-day-a-week schedule, said, “I think nothing would make Robin happier than getting back to five days a week.” He added, “She’s a tough competitor and a real athlete and wants to play every day.”

He declined to venture a guess about whether “G.M.A.” would widen its ratings lead now that Ms. Roberts, whom he often calls the show’s “team captain,” was back at least on a part-time basis.

“I have no idea what will happen,” he said. “We’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing.”

It’s possible to imagine a day six, 12 or 18 months from now when Ms. Roberts decides to step down from her daily duties on the show, whether for health reasons or for a mere change of pace. It’s also possible to imagine her staying in her chair for many years to come, given the competitive streak that Mr. Sherwood mentioned. Even while she was in the hospital, Ms. Roberts, a star basketball player in college, watched the overnight ratings for “Good Morning America” closely.

Asked if she would contemplate leaving the show a year from now, Ms. Roberts said, “One thing this journey has taught me is not to make predictions.”

In any case, “G.M.A.” said that the two women who filled in for Ms. Roberts last fall and winter, Elizabeth Vargas and Amy Robach, would remain regulars on the morning show. “G.M.A.” has an ensemble format with five co-hosts and a stable of regular contributors, reducing the reliance on any single person. “That will continue to be our strategy,” Mr. Cibrowski said on Wednesday.

During a champagne toast after the welcome-back broadcast, Ms. Roberts said to the staff members who surrounded her, “People ask me, ‘Why do you want to to back to work?’ ” She paused, then explained, “I feel like this is my third lease on life. I say, ‘I want to go back to work because of the people I work with, and the work that we do.’ We’re just getting started.”

Then she added with a smile, “Now we can resume regular programming.”

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Media Decoder Blog: ‘Smash’ Premiere Falls Short, Loses Viewers

3:25 p.m. | Updated It may be time for NBC to change the title of its Broadway drama, “Smash.” After its second-season premiere Tuesday night, the show might more appropriately be called, “Smithereens.”

That would best describe what the ratings for Tuesday’s episode are likely to have done to the show’s future: blown it to bits. “Smash,” which NBC extensively retooled after disappointing viewers who initially responded well to its pilot episode, fell a staggering 71 percent in the rating for the audience NBC most seeks to reach, viewers between the ages of 18 and 49. It also fell more than 60 percent in total viewers from its first-season premiere, to 4.46 million from 11.4 million.

Possibly even worse, the show dropped 39 percent from last season’s finale, after “Smash” had already been subjected to a critical battering for its season-long deterioration.

The bad news continued in the pattern of viewers leaving the show throughout its two-hour length. It started out with 5.2 million viewers at 9 p.m.; that fell to 4.47 million at 9:30; 4.22 million at 10; and to 3.96 million at 10:30.

NBC most cares about reaching viewers between the ages of 18 and 49, because that is the group it sells to advertisers, and “Smash” fell especially hard among that audience. It started weakly with just a 1.3 rating among that group for its first half-hour; by its last half-hour it was down to a 1.0. The average of a 1.1 was by far the worst performance Tuesday night for any show on the major networks.

Last season, “Smash” benefited from being placed behind NBC’s music-based hit, “The Voice.” This season it does not have that protection, which was one reason it was exposed so badly. Another was ABC’s decision to try to beat “Smash” early by adding a special edition of “The Bachelor” head-to-head against it.

That strategy worked: “The Bachelor” averaged almost eight million viewers and a 2.6 rating in the 18-to-49 category.

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Media Decoder Blog: Ratings Drop for Season Premiere of ‘Dallas’

The ratings for the two-hour premiere of season two of “Dallas,” the revival of the fabled soap on the TNT cable channel, are not going to do much to relieve the down mood left after the death of the show’s central star, Larry Hagman.

Monday night, the show attracted an audience smaller than any episode in its first season, and one significantly lower than the show’s premiere had in 2012.

For the first time, “Dallas” fell below three million viewers, with 2.97 million for the premiere. Last season, the show averaged about 4.2 million viewers, and its least-watched episode attracted 3.24 million.

The premiere episode last season pulled in more than twice as many viewers with 6.86 million. And the finale last season was also a success, with 4.28 million.

The news was equally grim among the viewers whom TNT is looking to reach to sell to advertisers. Monday’s show was lower than only one episode last year in its ratings for viewers in the two groups of most interest to advertisers, those between the ages of 18 and 49 and 25 and 54.

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Media Decoder Blog: Report Gauges Companies’ Approach to Advertising on Social Media

Since the arrival of social media platforms, companies have tried to figure out how to best use them to get their messages to consumers, often with mixed results. Some brands have embraced the notion that social platforms like Twitter allow constant interaction, for better or worse, with their customers.

Others have turned away from some strains of social media, as General Motors did last spring when it stopped advertising on Facebook while raising questions about the return on its investment. The move had a ripple effect in the advertising world, with many brands questioning whether the costs of being on social media were worth it.

A new report issued Tuesday by Nielsen and Vizu, a research company owned by Nielsen, shows that brands think they might be turning a corner, specifically when it comes to paying for their use of social media.The report examined the opinions about social media marketing among more than 500 digital media professionals — including brand marketers, media agencies and advertisers — from September to October 2012.

The study found that that 89 percent of advertisers continued to use free social media products. Nielsen did not release the names of specific social media platforms mentioned by the respondents, but they are likely to include Facebook and Pinterest, as well as Twitter.

Three quarters of the companies surveyed said they were also spending more for social media content, which could include paying bloggers to write posts about a product or using third-party technology to push videos on to the Web in the hope that they become viral.

Seventy percent of the advertisers surveyed said they dedicated up to 10 percent of their budget to paid social media advertising, while 13 percent dedicated more than 21 percent of their budget. Those numbers are expected to increase in 2013.

The results come as companies like Twitter and Facebook are making more diverse advertising options available to brands. Last year, Twitter announced a number of advertising and media initiatives, including a survey product that enables marketers to ask Twitter users a handful of multiple-choice questions. Facebook began testing a new advertising mechanism using a technology called real-time bidding, which allows advertisers to place bids on ad space at specific times.

“Advertisers are starting to look at social media as an integrated part of their advertising strategy,” said Jeff Smith, the senior vice president of product leadership for advertising effectiveness at Nielsen.

Still, companies retained some skepticism about social media strategy, the survey showed. While companies may expect to spend more to market their brands, they also want to be able to quantify the results of their campaigns. A third of the advertisers surveyed said they were unsure about the effectiveness of social media. The same percentage said they were unsure how to measure the return on their investment.

The majority of advertisers surveyed, 42 percent, said they wanted to measure their online campaigns using the same tools they use for offline campaigns, like sales generated and gross ratings points, while adding more measurement tools specific to digital campaigns, including “likes” and click-throughs.

Advertisers are able to tailor ads to specific groups of online users using cookies and other technologies, but they have often relied on whether consumers click on those ads as the main form of measuring how effective those ads have been.

At the Advertising Week gathering last year, Facebook announced that it was moving away from counting clicks as a metric and moving toward a measurement similar to the gross rating point used in television. The company said it was able to tell whether an ad was effective by combining data on when the ad was shown to a user with data about whether products had been sold. The move is meant to help what is known as “brand advertisers,” whose goals may be less tangible than those of direct response advertisers.

A Facebook representative declined to discuss the company’s paid advertising business. Facebook will announce its fourth-quarter earnings on Wednesday.

Tanzina Vega writes about advertising and digital media. Follow @tanzinavega on Twitter.

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Media Decoder Blog: Facebook Gives Users a Primer on Ads

Millions of users who visited their Facebook pages on Wednesday may have noticed a light blue banner that read: “About Ads: Ever wonder how Facebook makes money? Get the Details.” Clicking on a link in the text took visitors to a page that explained why Facebook users see the ads they see.

“It takes a lot of money to hire the best engineers and build the technology needed to keep Facebook up and running,” a Facebook product manager named Ami explains in a video on the page.

According to Ami, that cost was $1 billion last year. To offset those costs, advertising keeps Facebook free for users.

“Unlike ads on television, ads on Facebook respond to your direct feedback,” the narrator says. Users can click on ads they don’t like and ask not to be shown similar ads in the future. “The ads on Facebook are meant to be useful, not disrupt your experience.”

While the new advertising page may be useful to some Facebook users who are curious about advertising, it also comes at a time when many users are increasingly concerned about their privacy online and whether their personal data is being shared with advertisers.

To address that concern, the new page explains that Facebook does not sell a user’s personal information, but instead it makes money by showing the right ads to the right audience.

Facebook has many different types of ads, but the ones that have been getting the most attention over the last few days are called “sponsored stories,” which, as reported in the technology blog TechCrunch, will begin appearing in user’s newsfeeds in 2012.

TechCrunch writer Josh Constine explains: “The ability to display promoted content alongside organic social content in the popular and highly addictive news feed is essentially the holy grail for advertisers. While users are attentively browsing photos and updates from friends, they’ll end up consuming ads as well.”

Facebook has been increasingly working with advertisers and advertising agencies by hosting “hackathons” and attempting to teach agencies how to better use the social networking platform.

In April, the company announced a new social ad unit created by Leo Burnett Chicago, part of the Publicis Groupe, that would allow advertisers to ask users questions. Other existing interactive ad units allow users to click that on an ad they “like”, answer questions in a poll, respond to event ads, accept free product samples, watch videos or use Facebook applications.

A Facebook representative issued this statement when asked about the new advertising page: “Educating people about how Facebook works is really important to us. We have a number of educational resources available, including in-line tips, a Help Center, a Safety Center, and a variety of Facebook Pages for different audiences and topics. Along these lines, we recently launched a page that we hope helps people better understand how advertising on Facebook works. We’ll be doing a number of similar proactive initiatives on different topics throughout the coming year.”

But no matter what users think about ads, or how much they know about them, one thing remains true: they cannot opt out of seeing them.

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