Friday, June 13, 2014

"The History Of Nonsense - As It Relates To Network Television Advertising Costs"

That title sounds like a dissertation title if I were taking a “Survey Course” in “Nonsense” and had selected “Network Television Advertising Costs” as my specific area of “Nonsense” investigation.  Although I may be flattering myself, and it is simply a boring title.

Network television is a business, an assertion I shall return to next time when I discuss the implications of network television’s being a business. 

Get excited!  I am.

Being a business, network television’s goal is to maximize its profits.  Aside from sharing in the syndication windfalls from successful series – there was a time when television networks were prohibited from owning their own programming but now it’s okay, or at least legal – network television’s source of income has traditionally from the commercial air time they sell to advertisers.  The more the networks receive for those purchased commercial minutes, the more successful they are considered to be. 

Does their success relate in any way to broadcasting quality TV shows?  Not necessarily.  During the MTM heyday, when the good shows were also commercially successful, there was indeed a coincidence between quality programming and commercial success, but that turned out to be an anomaly (which I mistakenly took for the norm.) 

The reality is, good shows or bad, success in the television business is measured entirely by “The Numbers.”

And that’s the name of that tune.  (The cognoscenti amongst you may pick up on the Baretta reference.) 


It’s the seventies or thereabouts and you’re ABC, which means at that time that you rank third in the ratings, which is bad because there are only three networks.  You are still selling commercial minutes but more cheaply than your competitors are, because they’re “First” and “Second”, and you’re “Third.”  (The old line goes, “Networks don’t sell the programming to the audience, they sell the audience to the advertisers.”)

You do not want to be “Third.”  Being “Third” is less profitable, and it doesn’t feel good.  The “Third Place” network executive’s children are constantly teased in the schoolyard.  The ABC executives and their spouses are still invited to “A-List” parties, but only so people can point to them and laugh. 

“You see where they are in the ‘Buffet Line’?  They’re third.  Is that perfect, or what!

(We are not talking “cleverness.”  We are referencing abuse.)

Okay, so the executives at ABC have a meeting.  They would call it an “Emergency Meeting” but they don’t want to scare the shareholders.  Although the shareholders might actually be happy, knowing that the network executives are seeing the situation as an emergency.

The network president hits the ground running.

“Any ideas?  Don’t be afraid.  We’re ‘spit-balling’ here.  How can we be first?”

“We already are first.”

“We are?”

“From a certain perspective.”

“And what perspective is that?”

“We are “First at being last.’”

“Okay.  We need better ‘spit-balling.’  Because it is ‘spit-balling’ like that that made us “‘First at being last’.”

The room goes deadly silent.  Nobody wants to get the “First at being last” reception, triggered by an executive who is already imagining cleaning out his desk.  It is a desperate situation.  “Outside-the-box” thinking is required here.  Just not too far “outside-the-box.”  This is a television network, after all.

Finally, somebody speaks up.

“We do have the most young viewers.”

“Young viewers with no purchasing power.”

“Maybe there is another way of looking at that.  What if we promoted them not as young viewers with no purchasing power, which would not do us any good, but as young viewers whose buying habits have not yet be solidified, making them the ‘Potential Customers of the Future’ who are wide open to persuasion?”

Thus began the “Demographic Revolution”, wherein a last-place network convinced the advertisers that although they lagged behind in overall viewership, when it comes to reaching the recently labeled “Target Demographic”, they are actually.  In fact.   “Number One.”  (And can therefore charge a premium for their advertising minutes.)

“Nonsense!  Nonsense for sale!”

The truth is that younger audiences have less buying power than older audiences. And yet, the (now anointed) “Most Highly Coveted Demographic” remains, to this very day, the younger audience. 

You know the saying, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me?”

Well, here comes “Fool me twice.” 

Arguably an even greater hoodwinking than its predecessor.

Due to gadgetological competition, the network television audience size has been slashed and continues to descend.  But guess what?  (Hold on to your hats.)

Although the audiences are now one-third the size of what they once were, the networks are receiving more money from advertisers than ever before! 

(Here’s how that works.  Rather than the thirty-second variety of the past, there are now an increasing number of fifteen-second commercials.  But you know how a bowl of soup is nine dollars and a half-sized cup of soup is, not four-fifty, but seven dollars?  Well, two half-sized fifteen-second commercials are commanding a larger price than one thirty-second commercial used to.  To reach an audience that is one third the size!)

Today’s advertisers are paying more for an enormous amount less. 

Am I missing something?  Or is that just… nonsense?

Of course, there is a rationale for these startling overpayments.  Network television, it is explained with a straight face, is still the place to reach the largest available audience.  That’s why you still have to advertise on the networks.  Because, though they audience size is indisputably a fraction of its former size, it is still bigger than anywhere else.

To which I reply…


That rationale explains why advertisers should still run spots on network television.  It does not, however, explain why they should pay more money for a viewership pool that appears to have been decimated by a plague, that plague defined by stuff the audience prefers to do rather than watching network television.

Maybe it’s like that real estate scam in 2008.  You simply shuttle the calamity down the line.  The networks sell a smelleramitous bill of goods to the advertisers, who simply pass the insanity along to the sponsors, and everyone goes home with money in their pockets.  And who, as usual, is at the end of that line?

Us.  (Paying the bill via inoffensive programming and jacked-up product prices due substantially, if not exclusively, to ever-increasing advertising costs.

Sometimes, the acceptance of “business as usual” simply takes my breath away.  Something’s wrong when  “wrong” is “right.”

I need to take a walk to clear my head.  

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