Consumer Insights · Media Strategy · Brand Planning | Los Angeles, CA

Garfield: Advertisers Will Be The Last Line of Defense in Decency Wars

Here’s an interesting AdAge article from Bob Garfield on why advertisers may become the ultimate protectors of decency in prime time television. The crux of his argument is that with broadcast TV slowly dying as a medium, the FCC’s role in regulating the networks is dying as well. With that out of the picture, the only thing standing between the public and an onslaught of 7:30 pm curse words and bare buttocks is advertising dollars: Advertisers will pull their sponsorship of programming they feel reflects negatively on their brand, or incites pressure on them from consumers or other groups in the form of lost sales.

I don’t disagree with his general premise that the FCC’s hold on network TV is in decline. I think he oversimplifies when he says that, “[networks] must constantly balance the value of audience appeal with the public value of family-friendliness — a public value that is measured not by conscience but by the risk of losing advertiser dollars. That risk is the only thing that makes my family room reasonably safe for my entire family at 8 p.m,” however. Surely that is a factor, but I find it hard to believe that demand for relatively mild prime time TV, has dried up. That quote even expresses his own desire to have something he can watch with his kids in the evenings. I see it more like this.

With the death of broadcast meaning that the networks are no longer any more wide-reaching than any other basic cable channel, they lose some of their already-diluted prestige. They will still function as local news affiliates, but beyond that, what separates them from TBS or USA? I believe that if they want to continue to brand themselves as THE NETWORKS, they will need to continue showing broadly appealing programming in prime time. It may involve an occasional boob, or a swear word, but I don’t think we’ll see  Americas Got F’ing Talent anytime soon, or that awards shows will degenerate into opportunities to watch celebrities stand at a podium and curse. Individual advertisers and their motives are no doubt a reason for this. However, I think the networks’ own branding will play a role as well.

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