You've probably heard of speed dating. How about applying that idea to the increasingly uneasy courtship between advertisers and television viewers?

It's been pretty clear that consumers have been finding ways to avoid commercial breaks these days -- and marketers and broadcasters have good reason for concern. NBC Universal, which is owned by General Electric (NYSE:GE) and Vivendi (NYSE:V), is trying an experiment through which it will see how TV viewers respond to short, one-minute commercial breaks.

According to the The Wall Street Journal, NBC Universal intends to try the experiment on its USA cable network -- one of the cable networks that I find grievously cluttered with ads. A one-minute advertising interval allows time for just two commercials, and the article said that for now, Walgreen (NYSE:WAG) and Allstate (NYSE:ALL) are signed up for the slots. The idea is to cut down on what people perceive as advertising "clutter."

The experiment will last for five days (it began this past Monday), with one USA program having a single commercial break that lasts one minute. The rest of the breaks will be a normal length -- most run for two to four minutes. Meanwhile, WSJ points out that Disney's (NYSE:DIS) ABC, NBC, CBS (NYSE:CBS), and News Corp.'s (NYSE:NWS) Fox ran about 15 minutes per hour of ads and non-program material last year. It's no wonder viewers have been disenchanted enough to fast-forward through ads with wild abandon using DVRs such as TiVo.

NBC's experiment is an attempt to see whether a shorter commercial break will retain viewers' attention better. I will say this: On a more widespread basis, it very well might make it seem a little less worthwhile for viewers to get up and grab a snack or use the restroom -- the old-school methods through which viewers effectively tuned out advertising -- and it might even make hitting the fast-forward button on their DVRs seem a little less worthwhile.

On the other hand, I can't see just how effective this experiment might be. First off, there's the sheer fact that it lasts for only five days, during one program, which wasn't identified. If the experiment is deemed a success from this small piece of data and the practice becomes more widespread, I can imagine a few things that might infuriate viewers still more -- if the commercial breaks are shorter but more frequent, for example. As a Foolish colleague of mine commented earlier, the frequency of commercial breaks is already enough to make a lot of us feel just a bit ADD. Breaking up the story too many times for quickie breaks might rile up even more of the self-righteous indignation that many viewers already feel.

Regardless, experiments like this one are no surprise. Just a few weeks ago, I wrote about advertisers feeling pretty negative about the effectiveness of TV advertising these days. That's why companies like NBC Universal must work hard to convince advertisers that they can retain their effectiveness before they move on to other ways to spread their marketing messages.

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Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.