Programs are scheduled interruptions of marketing bulletins.
Marketing bulletins, in fact, are the essence of commercial broadcasting in the United States.
This chapter is concerned with the economics of radio and television broadcasting, a topic closely tied to developments in the movie, recorded music, sports, and other entertainment-distribution businesses. By its end, it should be evident that maybe Marshall McLuhan (McLuhan 1964) was onto something when he said, “the medium is the message.”
Going on the air
Technology and history
Broadcasting began the twentieth century as a laboratory curiosity; it ended the century as a business generating more than $50 billion per year. But monolithic the industry is not. In fact,many subsegments compete vigorously with each other.
Strictly speaking, commercial broadcasters sell time that is used for dissemination of advertising messages. In actuality, though, what is sold is access to the thoughts and emotions of people in the audience. As such, then, broadcasting in any and all of its forms is an audience aggregation business. Companies selling beer prefer to buy time on sports-events programs, whereas toy and cereal manufacturers prefer time on children’s shows. And the larger the audience the better.
To distribute commercial messages to audiences, or conversely, to deliver audiences to advertisers, four basic broadcast media have evolved over the past 80 years: AM (amplitude modulation) and FM (frequency modulation) radio and VHF (very high frequency) and UHF (ultra-high frequency) television. All these technologically defined media operate under identical macroeconomic conditions but different microeconomic conditions.