Moving on to discuss the system that created American Television, it has been referred to by the way it has been shaped by its commerciality and is often described as an enterprise that is funded predominantly by revenue gained from advertising and product placement. From this perspective, it functions less like an educational format like the BBC and more like an entertainment medium as ITV has been criticised. For roughly the first fifteen years of American Television, advertisers controlled the content of programmes as the main function of these programmes were to provide an attractive background to a product that advertisers were trying to sell. The history of American Television can be categorised into three eras of television; this begins with the era of TVI, which was active from 1948 until 1975 which is otherwise referred to as the broadcast era. During this era, there was initially three huge TV networks: ABC, NBC and CBS, whose main purpose of entertainment was to promote the ethic of consumption as well as selling the attractive suburban, nuclear family ideal. Especially the recent events of the war, this post-war content was very particularly structured to promote safe and organised lives of audience members; not only this, but there was a significant effect the war had on the content as it was expressed through Cold War paranoia in its programmes.
The way this era defined popularity was the number of viewers present watching the television at the time, which was often referred to as the lowest common denominator, as quantity overruled quality at this point. Primetime television was dominated by the core values of American culture, such as sitcoms and crime shows that audiences at home use as an escape from the paranoia of the post-war world around them. The era of television that flourished after this was due to the rise of cable television and niche marketing that targeted a more specific demographic, this era was active from 1975 until 1995 and was referred to as TVII. This era was significant as there was a rise in competition for audience viewing the channels, which lead to more specific marketing strategies as there were more niche audiences for channels.
This brought about advertisers that could target more specific audiences for products; for example, the products catered more towards mothers and housewives are often to do with cleaning or cooking. Although this was the main purpose of creating content, the strategies cleverly focus on marketing, as it gave smaller cable channels an opportunity to compete for audiences. The competition of what made ‘quality television’ rose from this era, as there was an incline in subscription channels, such as HBO that offered an exclusive relationship and access to its content and at this point, TVI and TVII had emerged politically and economically as one. Although both eras have very different aims, they are both primarily based on the redevelopment of popular entertainment to achieve an audience. The development of HBO however, gave the channel an independence to create whatever content they wished and by gaining paying customers for the service, it provided evidence that there was a definite customer satisfaction of the content provided by the service. Not only this, but there was an ease of access to the channel as it was available on satellite which was accessible via most television sets which promoted the expansion of audiences.
Most customers who subscribed to HBO would argue that the content that it broadcasts is ‘quality’ due to HBO’s exclusivity, as well as the way in which it promotes itself as a different channel, a better channel that is not restricted to certain areas of entertainment. As the company would say, ‘It’s not television, it’s HBO.’ Which brings this discussion towards the third era of television, TVIII: the digital era spanning from 1995 until the present day.
Often through branding, and association, audiences will come back to satellite cable channels that produce ‘quality’ programmes. For example, Mad Men is considered the first critically acclaimed television show that has been broadcast on AMC, a channel that was previously dedicated to developing and broadcasting movies. Through diversifying the content of pre-1970s films, it allows a younger market of audience members understand the context of the narrative as well as the events that are occurring. Lastly, by enlisting the help of Matthew Weiner who was previously praised for his work on HBO’s The Sopranos (also a televisual success) it inspired AMC to create something more innovative which also inspires more creative competition.