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Advertisers' control of TV shows seen as unavoidable, detrimental.

Advertisers' Control of TV Shows Seen as Unavoidable, Detrimental

"The structure and content of the media system is profoundly affected, if not actively controlled, by the judgments and practices of advertisers." So concluded advertising expert Leo Bogart in a paper written for the Freedom Forum Media Study Center in New York.

"This," he wrote, "has three important consequences:

1. It makes advertising a significant component of the public's communications experience. 2. It affects judgments that shape non-advertising content, and 3. It controls the life and death of individual media."

Bluntly put, advertisers use TV simply as a (supposedly) efficient way of getting their message across to millions. To that end, they are quite willing to force their will on the programmers, if that serves the ultimate aim of getting to the wide public.

The influence of the advertisers is underscored by the fact that, in recent times, sponsors have turned into coproducers, investing heavy dollars in the creation of programs. The trend is reminiscent of "the good old days" of radio, when, instead of just airing commercials, the big tobacco companies and others, in fact, sought complete identification with their shows.

Something similar is happening in today's television, particularly the networks, which are facing an economic down trend. "Big companies are coming to us, and we are talking to them," said Gary Montanus, senior vp marketing for Worldvision. "It's logical in view of the fragmentation of the market. It means that the sponsor/coproducer can help us shape the show for a more targeted audience, and, of course, there are profits to be split. "What's more, financial participation gives the advertisers much more clout in the placement of the programs. It gives them a chance to hedge their bets."

At Hearst Entertainment, president William Miller acknowledged that his company had been using advertiser funds in its productions for some time.

Bogart underscored the powerful presence of advertising in all media. "It fills about 17 per cent of network television prime time, Saturday morning children's time, and 27 per cent of network programming other than prime time," he recalled. Add to this, an additional 10 per cent of all broadcast time on local stations and above the network feed.

Bogart should know. He was executive vp and general manager of the Newspaper Advertising Bureau for 29 years. He formerly headed public opinion research for The Exxon Corporation, and also did marketing research for Revlon and McCann-Erickson.

Noting the degree to which TV broadcasters are dependent on advertisers, Bogart concluded that the advertiser influence on the broadcast media has three important consequences: "It affects judgments that shape non-advertising content, and it controls the life and death of individual media."

The real significance of the concentration of advertising power is that "in its relentless pursuit of audience size, it fosters conservatism and discourages genuine innovation," he wrote.

Bogart concluded with the observation that "the system has obvious flaws that cannot be corrected in the market place."

It is increasingly controlled by people with "enormous power" whose interests and energies are "spread too thin to permit them to take pride in any non-commercial aspect of their endeavors." Media content, he argued, "has been driven primarily by the need to maximize audiences for sale rather than by the desire to communicate the truth about our world or express deep thoughts and feelings... Broadcasting and film have vied with each other in pursuit of violence and vulgarity."
COPYRIGHT 1991 TV Trade Media, Inc.
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Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Video Age International
Date:Sep 1, 1991
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