Cook, David A.
July 1979
Columbia Journalism Review;Jul/Aug1979, Vol. 18 Issue 2, p64
This article discusses the business of commercial TV in the U.S. Most U.S. citizens believe that TV entertainment comes to them free of charge, and that the only price they pay is having to endure the commercials of which they see an average of nine-and-one half minutes during each prime-time hour and up to sixteen minutes out of sixty the rest of the day. The notion that TV is free is based upon the misconception that networks and stations are in the business of selling products to viewers. In fact, as Les Brown of The New York Times has pointed out, the business of commercial TV is selling potential consumers to advertisers. Since the costs of TV advertising are passed along to consumers in the price of the advertised goods, TV programming is hardly free. In the 1950s and early 1960s, all viewers were assumed to be potential consumers for the purpose of this transaction, and the networks sold them to advertisers as an undifferentiated mass. As the cost of network commercial time began to climb at an average rate of 21 percent a year beginning in 1961 and between 1961 and 1978 by a total of more than 340 percent, the one-minute commercial gradually gave way to short spots. By 1968, 80 percent of all commercials were thirty, twenty, or ten seconds long.


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