Do Ads Drive TV?

NOT everyone agrees that advertisers do not have a profound influence on the content of television programming.

In a paper for the Freedom Forum Media Studies Center at Columbia University in New York last year, Leo Bogart, a former top executive with the Newspaper Advertising Bureau, wrote:

"People who manage most media enterprises have, for many years, regarded advertisers, rather than the public, as their primary clients. To be sure, they work hard to generate audience.

"They do so not as an end in itself, but because audiences are the commodity they sell to their real customers.

"The structure and content of the media system is profoundly affected, if not actively controlled, by the judgments and practices of advertisers whose interest in media structure and content is entirely instrumental and pragmatic."

Noting that advertising takes up 17 percent of network TV prime time and Saturday morning children's programming, Bogart contended: "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. Advertisers tend to aim for big audiences that are attracted to content geared toward the middle range of intelligence or lower.... The public likes what is familiar, and what is familiar is what medi a managements choose to present.

"Tastes are formed, not predestined. They are to a very large extent the product of nurture and not of nature. [This] should force us to consider the possibility of inducing change, of raising mass communication content to a higher level."

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