The decade commercials became profitable

Michael McShane
Staff Writer

The 1980s, back when television was going into its rebellious teenage phase, going out late after curfew with the music business.

The world had such high hopes for such a rising and potentially life changing business that had many guessing what might lay in store for television.

What kind of shows would we be watching? How will it change us as a society? What kind of impact would it have on news and newspapers? 

Well, we already know that answer.

But one major discussion many were having was on the topic of commercials. Those 30-second commercials that we had to sit through after the latest cliffhanger on our favorite shows. 

What seems like an everyday occurrence now was a mystery for many back in the late 70s and early 80s as people were wondering what overall effect it would pose for cable television.

An article written by the New York Times in July 1981 debated just that. It pondered how commercials would be used in the future and its money-making potential for corporations now that more and more Americans are using cable television.

In the article, it states, “These days, in fact, no topic seems to animate cable programmers and advertisers more than the new genre of advertising they see evolving, based on cable’s unique features”.

Indeed, with television becoming a daily appliance in homes across the country and international, companies saw this as a great opportunity to bring in extra cash. This however was causing unease among those who wondered how commercials would be placed in-between programming.

“We won’t break programming at awkward times,’’ Dick Cox, then president of CBS Cable was quoted saying in the article. 

The article makes a point showing that people knew what cliffhangers were, but it seemed many believed commercials would not have an effect.

Some in the cable industry believed cable back then was leaning more towards informational programs and less on story-driven series, “Mork and Mindy” being an example.

This, of course, did not come to pass as shows based around an engrossing plot and characters became ever growing with commercials always showing itself right at the good parts. 

Commercials popping up at the worst time wasn’t the only thing people were worried about with commercials it seems. 

Commercials being used for propaganda purposes was an issue brought up by Peggy Charren, the founder of the now defunct Action for Children’s Television. The advocacy group promoted more diverse television programs for children and opposed commercialization towards children.

That, however, did not and has not stopped commercials and advertisements from growing to becoming just as much a part of television as the actual shows.

While cable industry executives of the 1980s were wrong in predicating television’s evolution, one thing they were right about was the immense profit commercials have made for businesses and corporations.

So, whether you like them or not, as long as they are making money, commercials will be with us for more decades to come. 

Feature photo courtesy of Flickr.

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