Updated: 04/15/2013

Film, Radio and TV - 26




TV Networks

and Ratings


>>The golden age of TV was also a golden age for the television networks.

The only exception was the under-financed DuMont Television Network, which operated from 1946 to1955 and then folded.

In addition to the stalwart CBS and NBC networks during this period there was also ABC, a new network that was trying, with increasing success, to move up.


Network Advertising

>>The television networks at first offered complete programs to advertisers for sponsorship, just as they had done with radio. However, after a while, some advertisers saw advantages in producing their own programs. Procter & Gamble, for example, wanted to concentrate on producing programs that had special appeal to the women who bought most of their products.

The names of some TV series were a bit of a commercial in themselves: for example, the "Kraft Television Theater" and the "U.S. Steel Hour."

But, after a while, advertisers started getting too much control over program content. In some cases entire programs ended up resembling commercials.

The film, Quiz Show, produced by Robert Redford, tells the story of how network and advertiser control got out of control. (The video is worth renting for its dramatic value alone.)

>>As time went on, producing and sponsoring a complete TV series became too expensive for one company.  The networks then took back production control and offered two or more companies commercial time slots in programs. This was referred to as participation.

In March 1985 the FOX television network started and joined the ABC, CBS and NBC television networks.  Shortly thereafter Rupert Murdoch bought FOX. (We'll get back to FOX in  a moment.)

>>Today, of course, programs typically carry commercials for a multitude of companies. In fact, commercial content -- often somewhat disparagingly referred to as commercial clutter -- has been increasing each year.

>>At the beginning of 2000, ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX all reported more than 16 1/2 minutes of commercials per hour - up more than three minutes an hour from 1991. By 2011, some stations were running 12 commercials in a row during some of their commercial breaks.

Three New TV Networks Are Launched

>>FOX came along after CBS, NBC, and ABC, but since it was well financed, its chances of success were much better than the ill-fated DuMont television network.

The present owner, media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, is an Australian who built a newspaper and TV empire in Europe and Australia. Since it isn't possible for non-citizens to own TV stations in the United States, Murdoch was able to rather quickly secure a U.S. citizenship.

The U.S. government had become disenchanted with the violence and sex on the "big three" networks, and apparently thought (or maybe were promised) that the new network run by a conservative such as Murdoch would reverse this.

But once he took over FOX, Murdoch pushed the boundaries of violence and sex in dramatic and comedy programming even further than the other networks -- and has garnered fines for "indecency" along the way.

By the mid-1980s Murdoch was able to purchase six Metromedia TV stations, along with the 20th Century FOX film studios. Murdoch further expanded his TV empire through News Corporation and worldwide satellite TV services. However, his expansion moves were blocked in 2011 by a hacking scandal that was traced to one of his most popular newspapers.

>>In 1995, United Paramount Network (UPN) and the Warner Brothers Network (WB) were launched. In the case of both WB and UPN, the main objective was to have TV station outlets for the material their associated film studios produced.

UPN was available in over 200 markets in the United States for about eleven years. It was originally owned by Viacom/Paramount and Chris-Craft Industries, but later taken over by the CBS Corporation. Its first night of broadcasting was on January 16, 1995. UPN struggled against the other networks and was finally shut down on September 15, 2006 when it merged with WB to form the CW Television Network.

CW Network

Because CW has had some difficulty getting TV stations and cable systems to carry its programming, it has also been struggling.  Even so, it has had several shows that have had higher ratings than shows on NBC in the same time-slot.

Public Service Programming

>>Initially, the concept of having regular public service programming (noncommercial or sustaining programming) was important to the FCC. For that reason it was important to local broadcast station owners who had to get their broadcast licenses renewed every five years by the FCC.

It can't be disputed that most people prefer to be entertained rather than informed -- although admittedly, most public service programs were weak in production values and often dull to watch.

Gradually, as the pressure for profits increased and the power of the FCC decreased, most public service programs -- especially at a time when people are most apt to be watching -- fell by the wayside. Now, if these programs are broadcast at all, they are relegated to times such as 6 or 7 a.m. on Sunday mornings, when not many people are watching.

Thus, stations can report some public service programming to the FCC. But, since little advertising revenue would be made during these off hours anyway, the stations aren't loosing much. In place of commercials the stations typically run PSAs (non-revenue generating Public Service Announcements) for nonprofit organizations such as the Red Cross and various government agencies.


Network Documentaries

>>In the United States, full-length, hard-hitting documentaries, such as "Harvest of Shame," have all but disappeared. 'Shame," which focused on the exploitation of migrant workers, not only garnered many awards, but also put the spotlight on a major social problem.

" We are the best entertained, least informed society in the world. "

-Neil Postman

>> Documentaries are also less attractive to networks because they can be expensive to produce because they generally require considerable research and production time. In addition, documentaries that tackle important topics often "step on the toes" of influential individuals and corporations.

>>Today, the full-length documentary void has been partially filled by programs such as "60 Minutes."

As the award-winning film, The Insider, shows, even the number one rated (and number one revenue-generating) TV newsmagazine, "60 Minutes," can be forced to back off from an important story when a large corporation with friends in high places applies pressure.

Networks still break away from regularly scheduled programming to cover major news events -- sometimes for hours at a time. Even though there are typically commercial breaks in this coverage, millions of dollars in revenue can still be lost. This is because of the extra production costs incurred in covering these events and the lost advertising in the programming that's preempted.

A good example of this was the coverage of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the East Coast of the United States. This coverage went on four hours without commercial interruptions. This can clearly be seen as "public service programming."

At the same time, if a station or network didn't cover disasters like this, viewers seeking information would quickly tune to stations that did.


The End of the Golden Age

>>Even though we now have five basic TV networks, we have to acknowledge that the golden age for television and television networks has past. The time that U.S. viewers spend watching network television is constantly being eroded as other options come on the scene: cable and satellite programming (a few of which are illustrated below), the Internet, DVDs, and video games.

What "golden age" is next? Will it be golden age of the Internet with its high-speed video options? We'll explore the promised cornucopia of Internet options in a later module.


Television Ratings

>>The survival of radio and TV shows depends on ratings.

Since newspapers and TV programs constantly refer to the ratings of shows, it's important to understand how they work.  Ratings are especially critical in broadcast advertising, where they are directly tied to the cost of commercials.

Although "ratings" is the term commonly used as a measure of program popularity, shares, CPM, and HUTS are just as important. We'll explain each.

RATING  - A rating is the percent of households tuned to a particular program from the total available TV households in a designated area. In this example there are 500 households tuned to program "A" out of a possible 2,800 (all of the TV households represented in the pie).

By dividing the larger number (2,800) into the smaller (500) we get a percent; in this case 17.86. So the rating of program "A" is (rounded off) 18.

Since ratings are in terms of percentages, we don't need to say "percent," just 18. Using the same procedure you can see that the rating for program "B" would be 11.

SHARE  - A share is the percentage of TV households with sets turned on that are watching your program. In the case of program "A" you divide 1,600 into 500 and get 31 as the audience share for program "A". The share for program "B" would be 18.75 or 19.

In the above example 1,600 represents the HUTS, or Homes Using Television, out of the total TV households in the designated area. In this case HUTS = 57% (1,600 / 2,800).

CPM  - Cost per thousand (not million!). When you are considering the relative costs of reaching potential customers it's important to be able to compare the media possibilities.

To determine CPM you divide the cost of advertising by total number of people reached by the advertisement (in thousands) . If a radio commercial costs $100 and reaches 50,000 people your CPM would be $2 (100 / 50,000). Note: you cross off three zeros in the 50,000 because we're figuring cost per thousand.

  You will note that in the 2007--2008 television season,  the FOX television network, did very well, due largely to "American Idol."

Note that the other networks all dropped below the 0% line. (With only so many viewers to draw from, when one network goes up in the ratings the others must drop.) This graph below compares the increase or decrease on a month-by-month basis during the sampled period.  

TV Prime Time Ratings Graph

To show you have fast things can change, according to Nielsen Research, CBS, which is #3 above, ended up with all of the top 10 shows for the week of May 25th, 2009. (Viewers are in millions in the chart below.)

CBC with all of top 10

  Although PBS, which we'll take up in the next module, normally has ratings that are below those of the CW network (shown in blue in the previous graph) public broadcasting has the advantage of appealing to a more select audience -- people often recognized as "decision makers."

Interactive Test

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