When it was launched in September 1955, you might have thought that British commercial TV would have nothing to teach its already well-established and giant US counterpart.
In fact, ITV’s arrival sparked some soul-searching across the Atlantic, where the amount of control advertisers – and their agencies – were exerting over programming was causing much discomfort.
William Stringer, the Washington bureau chief of The Christian Science Monitor, wrote about what was a vital difference between the two systems: "There are no sponsors. The link of commercial consideration between those who plan programmes and those who pay for them is totally surrendered."
What bothered Stringer and others was the way in which TV shows were created by agencies to sponsor a single product or company. The agencies then paid the TV networks to run these sponsored shows. Some sponsors could even dictate when a show would appear in the weekly schedules.
A man who did more than any other to break this unhealthy stranglehold was one of the guests at independent TV’s opening-night party in London.
He was Pat Weaver, president of NBC and, ironically, a former adman.
Indeed, it was during his time at Young & Rubicam in charge of TV and radio that he devised and championed a system allowing companies to buy the right to advertise in particular segments of progammes but not to control content.
He called this the "magazine concept" of advertising because it was comparable to advertisers buying space in magazines without having editorial control over the articles. When invited to join NBC, Weaver told executives: "I won’t come just to sell time to ad agencies. I’ll come only if we can create our own shows and own them."
With Madison Avenue having overcome its initial opposition, the "magazine concept" went on to dominate TV advertising in the US.
Things you need to know
- On arrival at NBC in 1947, Weaver reversed a decision to axe Meet the Press because no sponsor could be found. It is now US TV’s longest-running show.
- After leaving NBC, Weaver took a senior role at McCann Erickson and later became a consultant at Wells Rich Greene.
- A lifelong critic of TV’s over-commercialism, Weaver died in 2002 aged 93. His daughter is movie actress Sigourney Weaver.