Discover The 3 Key Lessons From 70 Years Of Broadcast Production

With new advertising possibilities introduced every few years, the constant pressure to be ahead of the game can seem overwhelming. 
We look to the early days of when commercial television just started to emerge - the medium that offered a killer combination of moving vision, sound, a captive audience and mass reach, and found the 3 key lessons from those early days of TV broadcast production...and the considerations for today. 


1. Adapt to New Platform Trends

Agencies had to decide how they would respond to the rapid rise of TV. Some jumped on board early and built departments specifically for the medium. Others tagged TVC production duties onto their existing radio departments. Others ignored TV as a short-lived trend.

Today, we are dealing with similar questions. How should we respond to new and upcoming advertising platforms?

Consider, for example whether online video production has enough overlap with television to be pegged on to that department. And things will only get more confusing as wearables and virtual reality start coming online.

What Happened in History

  1. Even though TV shared technical similarities with radio, the added complexity and production-intensive work associated with TV meant dedicated departments were a good idea.
  2. The rapid growth and potential for TV advertising justified investment in the new platform.

Considerations for Today

  1. Friendster and MySpace have taught us not all “revolutionary” new platforms are good investments. 
  2. The mix of skills and expertise needed to deal with a new platform might already exist in the various departments of the agency: the choice then, is whether to establish a new team bringing those talents together, or expand existing departments to cover the new medium.
  3. If you are considering bolting on capabilities via acquisition, consider the balance needed to integrate acquired agencies without compromising their unique selling points.

2. Think Wisely About Managing Content Costs

During the birth of television advertising, agencies and advertisers struggled with the production costs associated with this new medium. For example, animated sequences were very costly as each frame had to be drawn and photographed separately.

Writing in 1953, Rex Cox, Creative Director at Sarra Inc., noted that “the expense of producing a spot can often be appreciably reduced by designing the opening so that it can be used for more than one commercial” – a practice we might today call “repurposing assets”.

Today, cost control is considerably more complex and urgent. The costs of producing ads are growing exponentially because we are creating ever larger numbers of ads across an increasing number of platforms and markets.

Without a plan to intelligently deal with this volume, we could find ourselves drowning under production costs.

What Happened in History

  1. The cost of producing television ads grew out of control. In 1954, advertisers spent an estimated US$5 million on TVCs in the US. By 1974, the annual cost of TV advertising had grown to US$100 million.
  2. In the mid 70s, clients and advertising agencies put in place cost control procedures to bring expenditures back down to reasonable levels.

Considerations for today

  1. There’s a limit to how much you can cut production costs before those cuts start compromising the quality of the work.
  2. We are producing many more pieces of advertising content today, as our approach to advertising becomes increasingly granular. We now customize ads for each platform, market, and even individual.
  3. The real opportunity for savings today lies in finding new ways to create and manage these large volumes of customized advertising content.
  4. Some agencies are implementing a unified approach to advertising production. They are using technologies and advertisingto effectively repurpose advertising assets, allowing them to cost-effectively deliver customized content to their target audiences.

3. Don't Be Distracted By The Latest 'Buzz'

Early TV advertisers, faced with the possibilities of this new visually-stimulating technology, sometimes went overboard. Rex Cox bemoaned the over-reliance on technological tricks and gimmicks in TV ads, which were used to distract from weak ideas and visual selling.

“There is a tendency in the production of television film commercials to become too tricky with the use of camera moves and optical effects such as dissolves, wipes and irises,” Cox wrote. “When used improperly, such devices reduce rather than enhance the quality of a film.”

What Happened in History

The lure of tech gimmicks never went away. Every new advance, be it CGI, animatronics or 3D compositing, brought with it the temptation for misuse. Case in point: the infamous political attack ad featuring demon sheep. 

Considerations for today

Today, new and emerging technologies present even greater possibilities for abuse. It’s as important as ever to retain a level of self-control and perspective in the face of cool new technologies. 

But we don’t need to tell you that – this very issue was famously lampooned by cummins&partners in the excellent trailer for the Creative Fuel Conference, which urged the industry to “cut the bullshit and refocus on creativity”. We couldn’t say it better ourselves.


Even as we draw surprising lessons from the history of TV, it’s important to note just how much things have changed. 

The advertising industry has undergone major structural transformations. Decoupling has seen production departments spun out, with brand owners increasingly taking back control over the creative and production process. Technology has advanced in leaps and bounds, making our work more complex, while providing us with powerful tools to deal with this complexity.

To thrive in this world will require a mix of flexibility and control. Flexibility to adapt to new technologies, new markets and new ideas; control to ensure the consistency and cost effectiveness of our content.


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Georgie CharlishBlog