The power of advertisers over television programming stems from the simple fact that they buy and pay for the programs-they are the “patrons” who provide the media subsidy. As such, the media compete for their patronage, developing specialized staff to solicit advertisers and necessarily having to explain how their programs serve advertisers’ needs. The choices of these patrons greatly affect the welfare of the media, and the patrons become what William Evan calls “normative reference organizations,” whose requirements and demands the media must accommodate if they are to succeed.
For a television network, an audience gain or loss of one percentage point in the Nielsen ratings translates into a change in advertising revenue of from $80 to $100 million a year, with some variation depending on measures of audience “quality.” The stakes in audience size and affluence are thus extremely large, and in a market system there is a strong tendency for such considerations to affect policy profoundly.
This is partly a matter of institutional pressures to focus on the bottom line, partly a manner of the continuous interaction of the media organization with patrons who supply the revenue dollars. As Grant Tinker, then head of NBC-TV, observed, television “is an advertising- supported medium, and to the extent that support falls out, programming will change.”