How TV Works


This article originally appeared in Issue# 57

In television most programs are produced by independent production companies who then sell their product to the networks. The networks recoup their expenses and derive profit by selling audience time to advertisers for spots within these programs. The content of television programs in this context is structured by at least three considerations. First, the program has been able to attract large numbers of people to watch it. It cannot therefore appeal to too narrow of a minority.

Second, the program has to attract the "right" kinds of people. Not all parts of the audience are of equal value to the networks. The programming will have to attract those parts of the audience that advertisers wish to reach (such as appealing specifically to teenagers or to males 34 - 50 with an income of $40,000 or more). The content of the programs will have to reflect this targeting.

Third, the programs not only have to deliver large numbers of the "correct" type of people to advertisers, but they also have to deliver them in the "right frame of mind." Programs should be designed to enhance the effectiveness of the ads that are placed within them. They thus should emphasize the ethic of salvation through consumption and encourage viewers to emulate lifestyles of the wealthy. Dallas, Dynasty, and Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous -- rather than the culture of and the real problems and issues facing working-class, lower middle-class, and middle-class people (the bulk of the viewing audience) predominate in broadcasting.

— Sut Jhally in The Political Economy of Culture