In the 1940s, there were only three stations: ABC, CBS, and NBC. The programming was live and broadcast out of New York, then distributed to local areas.
Less than 30 years later, 44 million households had televisions, and there were 566 TV stations. Advertisers spent over one billion dollars to reach that audience.
As of 2007, there were over 1,300 stations, and advertisers hit the 60 billion dollar mark!
I missed out on the golden age of television. I didn’t get into the TV scene until the 1970s when I was a kid. Saturday morning cartoons, filled with Saturday morning advertising. Specials on weeknights that made me beg my mother to let me stay up late, stuffed with – you got it – more advertising!
With all these great things to watch but no time to watch them all, VCRs got popular. People could record television shows and watch them later. Then they could skip over that advertising that they had paid money to avoid once upon a time.
Now new services and devices, like the DVR and Tivo, have come out onto the playing field. People can once again skip ads, even easier than before. No more needing to hold down the “fast forward” on the VCR or press the remote control. Now you just skip the ads and go along your merry way, watching TV without interruption.
And the advertising people aren’t happy.
But advertising now permeates everywhere. Movies don’t just have previews: they have ads for cars and Coca-Cola. Shows include product placement, whether overt and obvious or nearly subliminal. Cars seem to be the worst offenders, with The Glades not even hiding their Kia endorsement, Psych’s love for the Ford Focus, Bones and Booth being in love with their Toyotas, and Big Bang Theory’s Wolowtiz celebrating his return from outer space by buying a Mini.
To a lot of people, advertising is the best part of the Superbowl. There are contests and games based on the commercials that are shown, and advertisers shell out big bucks to make a statement and get their brand out there.
Do advertisers need to change their tactics? Maybe we’re moving away from the golden age of advertising. Maybe instead of having 30 and 60 second ads tossed into the middle of shows, we need to just let them take over and sponsor shows like they used to, like General Foods sponsoring I Love Lucy and Buick sponsoring The Honeymooners. Or let the characters use and sell the products. Yes, all the viewers will know it’s forced, but aren’t ads forced to begin with?
Technology is going to keep changing. Advertising needs to keep changing, too.