The Golden Age of TV, Again (Ross Cranford Commentary)

by Ross Cranford  on Monday, Jul. 17, 2017 12:00 am   3 min read

From “The Carol Burnett Show” to Carpool Karaoke, video entertainment has changed enormously, from how it’s made to how it’s distributed. But essentially, much remains the same. TV has gone from the days of Procter & Gamble-sponsored soap operas to Amazon Studios-produced shows for streaming on Amazon Prime (with free two-day shipping included).

Originally, all TV was free, paid for with your valuable attention to the ads. The first golden age of television started in the late 1940s and 1950s when there were only a few channels for viewers to choose from. Kraft or Philco would sponsor an entire hour of live entertainment. The term “soap opera” comes from brands like Oxydol and Rinso that brought viewers their favorite daytime dramas.

Cable, satellite and subscription services like HBO and Showtime took away the ads, so you paid a monthly fee instead. Now there are hundreds of channels and endless streaming content on YouTube, Hulu and the internet. This new golden age of TV is almost all about streaming content without commercial interruptions — like “Orange Is the New Black” and “House of Cards” on Netflix, “Game of Thrones” and “Westworld” on HBO and “Twin Peaks: The Return” on Showtime.

Traditional platforms for entertainment and advertising have been turned upside down by the digital revolution. Many people still watching broadcast TV zip through commercials on their DVR. With cord-cutters and time-shifters, there’s practically no such thing as “prime time” anymore.

So how are brands supposed to reach you and incite the desire to buy, buy, buy?

Smart marketers create their own digital shows, where the brand itself sponsors the content that entertains and informs. Instagram-famous “influencers” are paid to use a soy milk product in their morning latte post. Popular podcasts are sponsored by companies like MailChimp or FreshDirect. Ads very similar to traditional broadcast spots precede YouTube videos instead.

Now there’s Amazon Prime, another competitor for the streaming video crown to challenge Netflix, with Amazon Studios producing award-winning shows like “Transparent” and “Mozart in the Jungle.” Amazon and Jeff Bezos were even thanked three times from the Oscar stage when “Manchester by the Sea” won Best Actor and Best Screenplay and “The Salesman” won Best Foreign Language Film.

Why is the e-commerce giant that started by selling books online moving into the entertainment production and delivery business? As Gwen Moritz pointed out in her column about Amazon a few weeks ago, Amazon’s mission now is “to be earth’s most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”

Advertising is all about content attracting customers, this time actually getting them into the (virtual) store. Amazon Prime started as a program for fast and free shipping, before evolving into a streaming TV, movie and music service. With already too much good TV to watch (and Target and Kroger less than a mile from my home), I was a holdout on subscribing to Amazon Prime until Amazon adapted my favorite Philip K. Dick novel, “The Man in the High Castle,” into a series showing an alternate history of the U.S. under Nazi rule. Now that I have the Prime membership, nothing stops me from saving a trip to Target by ordering a monthly supply of soap or paper towels with one-click shopping, delivered free to my door.

The modern-day version of the soap opera is producing your own content to ensure you own the complete customer experience. The key is to make something entertaining and high quality that people actually want to watch.

Facebook is even about to enter the arena of original content creation in order to keep more eyes on its app for longer periods. You’ll pay for the entertainment with your private data. Luckily for businesses of all sizes, you can scale your content production to how much you need, from the traditional 30-second format to as little as 6 seconds — or as long as the viewer will watch.

While the world of televised entertainment (or streaming video content) and advertising has changed drastically in the past five years, it still all comes down to the same market-driven imperative to capture consumers’ attention and drive product sales. As the old saying goes “The more things change, the more things stay the same.”

(And also, you can stream “The Carol Burnett Show” on Amazon, but you’ll have to rent or buy it.)

Ross Cranford is a partner and social media strategist at Little Rock advertising agency Cranford Co. Email him at



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