#FlashbackFriday: Selling Television to the Masses

#FlashbackFriday: Selling Television to the Mainstream

Television was becoming more affordable and mainstream in the 1940’s, but was later put on hold due to World War II. By the 1950’s, advertisers were scrambling to serve up ads to every demographic, excited by the television boom. But before that, TV was reserved for an elite audience, primarily in the New York area.

In the early 1940’s,  standardized tv technology approved by the Federal Communications Commission ushered in new opportunities for business. The first commercial licenses were issued to NBC and CBS owned stations in New York on July 1, 1941. That’s the exact same day that the first television advertisement premiered, ushering in a new era of sponsored television programming.

The first ad on television was pretty simple; a short spot for the Bulova watch company aired before a show in the evening. However, the ad spot set a new frenzy in the advertising industry – the possibility to reach thousands (and eventually, millions) of Americans across the US, from the comfort of their living rooms.

Commercial use of television was put on hold for World War II – it was too expensive for the stations to stay in business. Times were tough, and while the FCC only required four hours of broadcast hours during the war, four of the largest stations shuttered. The remaining six stations suspended original programming, and television got depressing. Programming included events like boxing, plays, and live events. The rest of the time, tv stations ran reels of illustrated war news, pro-war propaganda and anti-German propaganda, training films for air raid wardens and first aid providers. War had made its way into everyday life. The necessity of mobilizing the public to help with the war also necessitated that tv stations ignore escapism. TV got boring, depressing, and dry.

Production of new TV sets, radios, and other broadcasting equipment for everyday citizens was suspended from April 1942 to August 1945. Most people who owned their own television were  in New York. In fact, out of about 44,000 television sets owned by American citizens, 30,000 of the owners were in the New York area. Television was a luxury for civilians, and a tool for the government that needed to be able to keep pace with communications and training in a time of war.

When World War II ended, everyday television consumption was resumed.  New shows launched.  Television began to explore science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and variety shows. Television ushered in the new era of advertising and big money from corporations to fund even more television shows. The Federal Communications Commission was flooded with applications for television station licenses, but not enough frequencies were available for all them.

By 1949, the networks stretched from New York to the Mississippi River. Television advertising was making broadcasters wealthy, and the golden age of advertising was approaching.

Ads like the one at the beginning of this article were common. The “mad men” of advertising knew there would be a new generation of children fine-tuned to be influenced by everything they saw on tv.  Selling tv as a reward for good behavior, such as doing homework, as well as a solution to bad behavior and acting up made it an easy sell for many busy families, especially in post WWII, where slipping into fantasy seemed like a good solution to our nation’s growing social problems and civil unrest. It was a good time to kick up our nations’ collective feet, sit back, and watch Tales of Tomorrow  to pass the time.

Mainstream tv consumption also gave advertisers the ability to shape our collective opinions, drive consumerism, and serve up propaganda to everyday households. Television gave advertisers the ability to become a part of our culture and the illusion that product placement was a normal part of everyday life.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s