A Brief History of Cable TV Commercials
How much does cable TV advertising cost? If you’re a business owner looking to advertise, that’s the first question on your mind. And how can you get the most bang for your buck?
A cable TV commercial can be a great way to spread the word about your business or product, but it can also be incredibly expensive. As advertising costs continue to increase and cable companies introduce higher rates and hidden fees, more options are available if you’re looking to advertise on TV without the usual upfront costs associated with commercials.
Keep reading to learn more about the history of cable TV commercials and how they compare to the other ways you can advertise on TV today.
Table of Contents
The Early Days (Before 1979)
During its earliest days, cable television was all about entertainment. But, as you may have guessed, cable television started with government-funded channels. As a result, consumers weren’t exactly tuning in to watch commercials during their favorite shows, but they also didn’t expect to see them anywhere else.
It wasn’t until almost 20 years later that advertising began appearing on cable networks. Cable television was still a relatively new concept, and businesses were beginning to realize its potential for marketing and promotion.
But cable providers were still concerned about losing subscribers if they aired too many ads—so they kept commercial breaks short and sweet. Plus, most cable providers charged business owners a fee per commercial (in addition to per-subscriber fees), which meant strict limitations on how many ads could be shown each hour.
This limited both viewers’ exposure to ads and advertisers’ exposure to consumers. The whole thing worked out pretty well for everyone involved:
- Cable companies made money from charging business owners for ad space.
- Businesses got more bang for their buck by paying less per viewer than they would on network television.
- Viewers enjoyed uninterrupted programming without being bombarded by advertisements every five minutes.
This arrangement lasted through most of the 1980s before cable providers realized that people liked watching commercials! By 1990, cable providers had begun airing fewer commercials each hour and giving business owners access to higher viewership rates.
In other words, cable providers were getting paid based on how many people watched their ads instead of how many times an ad was shown.
The Golden Age of Cable TV Commercials
Throughout television history, networks have plagued production delays and technical glitches. This is where commercials come in. Many believe that cable TV advertising came about to keep viewers on the screen and prevent them from moving to another channel or other entertainment options.
As cable TV grew, people watched live broadcasts instead of recording shows for later viewing. This offered cable companies an opportunity to collect ad revenue during temporary breaks in live programming. These ads also helped keep viewers tuned into their channels and gave producers more time to fix any issues with programming before they reached the airwaves.
Nowadays, cable companies pay billions of dollars every year in expenses. Some even offer exclusive programs like HBO and Showtime to cable subscribers. But they offset these rising expenses by increasing cable TV advertising costs over time, making it more difficult for small to medium-sized businesses to partake.
2010–2019 – New Look, Old Content
A decade ago, many businesses revolutionized their approach to TV advertisements. Long-form adverts were replaced with short bursts of comedic sketches and punchlines. The move to shorter ads gave viewers more control over their viewing experience and allowed for a higher number of advertisements per hour.
With cable subscriptions dropping, it’s uncertain how many years these new-look ads will be around—though it seems unlikely that traditional 30-second adverts will return soon.
The Current State
Our cable providers are still trying to keep us from ditching them for a cheaper, more convenient alternative. However, with pay-per-view content and streaming services like Netflix and Hulu now available, many people cancel their cable subscriptions altogether and switch to Connected TV platforms.
Unfortunately for cable companies, that trend doesn’t look like it’s slowing down anytime soon. In fact, according to research by The Diffusion Group, one in five American households will have cut their cable cords by 2023.
This is good news for consumers who want more control over what they watch and how much they spend on entertainment—but bad news for an industry already struggling with high prices and dwindling profits. In response, some cable providers have begun offering skinny bundles—smaller packages of channels at lower prices—to attract customers back into their fold.
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