FCC: Advertisers’ Demands May Hurt Network Ratings

Advertising-supported television may not give viewers what they want, two economists said in a new FCC study.

Studying the 1995 fall season, the FCC’s Keith Brown and Florida International University’s Roberto Cavazos found that advertisers shied away from "darker" network programming, such as news and crime dramas, and were willing to pay a premium for spots during sitcoms.

Of the programs in the broadcast sample, seven were newsmagazines, five were police dramas and 38 were sitcoms. The bad news for broadcasters: Viewers might prefer programs that portray the darker side of life. By programming for advertisers’ preferences rather than viewers’, broadcasters may have provided HBO and other cable programmers an opening to counterprogram in favor of viewers’ desires.

"The development and rapid spread of cable and satellite television," the authors concluded, "can be attributed at least in part to the market failures inherent in over-the-air, advertiser-supported television."