Commercial television: They’re buying in Britain 

26 June 2017

From Broadcasting • Telecasting magazine in the United States, published 5 September 1955

Will sponsored tv be a hit in England? A lot of people still have to be convinced, but not the advertisers. They’re flocking to the medium in droves.

BRITISH commercial television, making its debut in the London area on Sept. 22, has yet to convince many peers, politicians and other public figures that it is a “good thing.” But England’s advertisers have already proved that they need no such convincing.

More than a month before T-Day the new Station found its choice evening time spots sold out for the full first year, with demand running high for even the less favored hours. In spite of the taboo against program sponsorship and the restrictions on the type and length of commercials, the big advertisers have come in overwhelmingly. Top U. S. brand names are in particular evidence.

These definitely will be weekend advertisers: Lever Bros., Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, Horlicks, General Foods, Gillette, Singer Sewing Machine, Revlon, Max Factor, Hoover, Kellogg and Ford.

On weekdays top companies include Lever Bros., Colgate, Hedley (Procter & Gamble), General Motors, all leading British auto manufacturers, Esso and “all the oil people.”

The division between weekends and weekdays is stressed because two different companies will provide the station’s programming for those periods. The Tv Act specifies that all commercial tv stations — the one in London now, two more next spring and eventually 40 or 50 — are to be operated by Independent Television Authority, but the programming done by outside firms called program contractors. ITA has authorized Associated Broadcasting Co. (ABC) to program its London station Saturdays and Sundays and Associated-Rediffusion Ltd. (ART/V) to provide the Monday-through-Friday programs.

It is the program contractor who sells time to the advertiser — announcements only, program sponsorship being banned by law. The advertiser cannot select his program, but he can choose the type of time — AA: 8-10 p.m. weekdays; 8-9:30 p.m. weekends; A: 3-6 p.m., 7-8 p.m., 10-11 p.m. weekdays; 7-8 p.m., 9:30-11 p.m. Saturdays; 2-6 p.m., 7:30-8 p.m., 9:30-10:30 p.m. Sundays; B: 2-6 p.m. Saturdays; all time other than AA and A weekdays, except test transmission hours; C: 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m.-12 noon Saturdays. No advertising is accepted Sunday, 7-7:30 p.m.

Weekend rates are: AA — $1,260 for 15 seconds to $2,800 for 1 minute; A: $756 for 15 seconds to $1,680 for 1 minute; B: $448 for 15 seconds to $980 for 1 minute; C: slightly more than half the B rate. Basic weekday rate is $1,820 for a minute in A time. The peak AA rate is the basic rate plus 50%; the B rate is the basic rate minus 50%; the C rate is the basic rate minus 70%.

Both contractors indicate that these rates are provisional and will change. Both say that these prices apply only to the usual telecast; when there is a program of wide national interest, they can charge a special rate as much at 100% higher than the normal rate. ITA, incidentally, does not exercise control over the profits of any licensed contractor.

Both companies pay a 15% commission on gross time charges to recognized advertising agents. Top U. S. agencies who have already bought time for clients include: Foote, Cone & Belding: Young & Rubicam; J. Walter Thompson; McCann-Erickson; and such leading British firms as S. H. Benson Ltd.; W. S. Crawford Ltd.; Colman, Prentis & Varley; G. S. Royds, and London Press Exchange.

Slide film, motion picture film, and animated commercials are being readied by more than half a dozen companies, some of which have sprung up solely to supply the sudden tv market. One of the leaders is Pearl & Dean, who has been in the business of making the commercials seen in British movie houses during intermission. Another is Theatre Publicity, also in this business and a part of the J. Arthur Rank Organization. Among the newcomers are Television Advertising Ltd. and Tv Commercials Ltd. which is now making a series of 109 commercials for Sterling Drug. It is worth noting that pharmaceuticals have been accepted for tv advertising ‘very much subject to conditions,” according to the contractors.

The contractors are making studio facilities available for live commercials, with charges based on camera hours for rehearsal and air times. Dry rehearsal facilities also are available. On the technical side, advertisers have had to note that British tv is transmitted with a frame frequency of 50 per second and a picture frequency of 25 per second. This means that films made at the usual 24 frames per second will have a slightly shorter running time and must be adjusted.

As for the commercials themselves, they are expected to be low key and low pressure. One of the admen making them, John Metcalfe, recently compared them with the U. S. type, in a newspaper interview, in these words: “The whole approach is different … we have to lower the pressure, so to speak, unscrew the stopper and let out the gas.”

In general, advertising matter is limited to six minutes per hour, to be presented between programs or in a “natural break” such as theatre intermission or football half time. Number of ad periods may not exceed six per hour, averaged over the total broadcast day. The advertiser also can buy five-second on-the-hour time signals. The law further permits stations to transmit “Advertising Features,” “Advertising Magazines,” or “Shopper’s Guides,” which are sponsor-participation shows on the order of NBC’s Home show, of 15 or 20 minutes duration and not subject to the six minute per hour limit as now planned.

Also permitted are “Advertising Documentaries,” which can be described as commercial shorts—“A Trip Through the Ford Plant” perhaps, or “Whence Comes Your Morning Toast.” Subject to ITA approval, these may be any length, may be produced by either advertiser or program contractor; they fall into the entertainment category and may contain advertising. According to Richard Meyer, ABC’s director, spots on such programs may be sold and also fall outside the six-minute-per-hour regulation.

For the Advertising Magazines and Shopper’s Guides, the rate is $980 for two minutes or less of basic participation in B time, and $1,680 in A time. Documentaries or Advertising Features, length Vs hour, in A time run $5,600, and in B time, $2,800. Saturday’s time signals (5 seconds, on the hour) cost $2,100 for a minimum of seven; on Sunday, the same runs to $2,800.

The English are still quivering from the shock of discovering that one U. S. Coronation telecast was followed by a commercial for Lady Pepperel Sheets, “fit for a queen,” and another interpolated Fred J. Muggs into these dignified proceedings. It has therefore been provided that in televising royal occasions there must be at least a two-minute interval between the program and ads before or after. Moreover, “any broadcast before or after a royal event must be of a tone and style suitable to the occasion.”


BBC has thrown an extra million pounds ($2,800,000) into its fight against commercial tv, it was reported last week. BBC-TV plans to face its rivals with 50 hours of telecasting a week, aimed at holding the island’s 12 million viewers faithful to the public-owned corporation. The list of attractions is topped by Britain’s favorite sports events. Other aspects of BBC’s new look include shearing its panel games to the single top-rated What’s My Line?, according to Cecil McGivern, program chief.

Commercial copy has to be submitted to the company (program contractor) at least two weeks in advance, with material for live ads submitted six weeks ahead. Advertisers must prepare alternative acceptable copy, and the contractor has absolute right to alter or substitute, to delete by fading or cutting (advertiser still pays full price for time and/or studio facilities). Only if the contractor omits the commercial entirely, which he has the right to do for any reason whatsoever, does he refund payment.

The British feel that by eliminating sponsorship, “the filling of the programs with material supplied by advertisers,” they are removing the crasser elements of U. S. tv and insuring that the medium retains its public service character. As Sir Robert Fraser, ITA director-general, puts it, he sees tv as “a good publisher sees his publishing house — a group of men and women doing a job … to which they apply their own standards of what is good and bad, which they see as a social instrument for the use of which they are responsible.

“It is not good enough or dignified enough that television programs should be an inconsequent derivative of an unrelated succession of advertising decisions, no matter how public spirited some of the advertisers may be,” Sir Robert declares. “It is simply not the way to secure the best social use of the medium. This is a point of view first stated in this country by our own advertisers and agents.”

Sir Robert further says that there will be no “sponsored” tv or even “commercial” tv in spite of the widespread use of these phrases in Britain. There will be “independent” or “free” tv. “We do not speak of the commercial press,” he explains. “Unless a free community has lost its grasp of its own fundamental values, it is called a free press.”

This, then, is the policy behind the fact that advertisers cannot choose the shows during which their commercials will be transmitted. It also helps to explain such portions of the Tv Act as regulation that nothing may be broadcast between six and seven p.m., traditionally British children’s bedtime. The peers and seers who wrote the law envisaged bedtime difficulties which might disrupt the English household. Enough Englishmen and women had visited the U. S. in recent years to have decided that tv produces a bedtime problem.

Both London program companies have been busily lining up shows and talent, about which they give out frequent fanfare. Associated Broadcasting’s weekend programs, announced as the “best and brightest in the world” by Prince Littler, company chairman, will present Bob Hope, Norman Wisdom, Gracie Fields, and all the “top-of-the-bill” names in show business on its Sunday night spectaculars from the Palladium. Associated Broadcasting also will broadcast Theatre Royal on Sunday eves, a series of filmed plays now being made by “high definition technique,” with stars like Eric Portman, Ralph Richardson, Wendy Hiller, Flora Robson. Saturday night will feature a dramatic production with famous British stars, and late Saturday, British disc jockey Jack Jackson will interview, live and on film, various West End stage personalities.

Associated Broadcasting will use several U. S. imports: Roy Rogers is scheduled for Sunday afternoons, and Col. March of Scotland Yard will also be seen. The Advertising Magazines include a Sunday afternoon Going Shopping with visits to various stores to demonstrate branded merchandise, and two Saturday afternoon programs, a 15-minute Do It Yourself, using branded items, and a Home show run by actress Joy Shelton. These programs consist entirely of advertising, which is required to be “entertaining.”

The weekday group, Associated-Rediffusion, has announced a series of 26 half-hour filmed programs — Around the World with Orson Welles, in which he will do offbeat interviews in farflung places. First in the series is “The Third Man Revisits Vienna.” The drama division under Norman Marshall is producing one-hour plays at Shepperton Studios. There also will be a 1 Vi hour drama alternating weekly with concerts by the Halle Orchestra under John Barbirolli, once director of the New York Philharmonic, who has been appointed ART/V’s advisor on music to “ensure that all music used in the program will conform to his musical taste and the high quality of entertainment the station intends to offer.”

The weekday programs will present “specially devised entertainment for women . . . with due respect for their intelligence” — half-hour transmissions every morning at 10:45 a.m., a period popularly called “elevenses,” when most housewives sit down to a cup of tea and a rest before tackling the heavier housework. Three times weekly at 12:15 p.m., the “tinies” — children under five — will have a program.

The youngest set gets a 5 to 6 p.m. show called Tea-V Hour, because, as officials hasten to explain, no British child over age twelve will permit himself to be considered a child. A serial for girls is planned; boys will have Hopalong Cassidy.

Another U. S. show to be transmitted is Dragnet. The company has been considering the purchase of Four Star Playhouse and similar U. S. material, but is handicapped by the ITA ruling limiting non-British programs to one hour daily.

On the weekday transmissions, ART/V expects to allot 22½% of the broadcast day to sports — racing, stock cars, boxing, soccer, swimming, etc. They have signed all five race tracks in the London area and also have contracted for exclusive rights on the only indoor pool with a built-in underwater window for photography.

Program time units are quarter hour, half hour, an hour, and an hour and a half on the London station. In general, both contractors feel that commercials longer than two minutes will lose audience, a possibility to which they are acutely sensitive, particularly in view of general public opinion about commercialism in television. In some instances, however, they are selling spots as long as three minutes, when the ad itself is considered interesting. Again, it is a matter of deep concern that tv be a “welcome visitor rather than an intruder in the home.”

By law, the transmission day is only seven hours, so contractors have had to select the hours preferred. ART/V will transmit from 10:45 to 11:15 a.m., will broadcast music from 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., will resume transmission from 12:15 to 12:45 p.m., and will sign off for the afternoon until 5 p.m. The company decided against afternoon hours because of competition from the BBC’s 2-3 p.m. women’s programs. Telecasting begins again with children’s material from 5 to 6 p.m., and signs off until 7 p.m. to clear the field of distractions during bedtime. From 7 to 11 p.m., the evening program is transmitted.

Weekend transmission hours by Associated Broadcasting are Saturday, 2 to 11 p.m., and Sunday, 2 to 10:30 p.m., with the usual bedtime break between 6 and 7 p.m.

Second major problem is the matter of converting tv sets. In Britain, there have been three separate stages of receiver manufacture. From 1947 to 1950, sets were designed to receive only the BBC circuit, without provision for adaptation for other channels. These sets can, however, be adapted to get one additional specific frequency, at a cost of $20 to $25.

From 1950 to 1953, sets were made to receive only the BBC but had a built-in arrangement which could easily be adapted to receive 13 channels. To adjust this type costs $14 to $17. From 1953 on, all sets in Britain have been designed to receive 13 channels. Those which require adapting also need adjustment of the aerial, at additional cost. Average expense per family to adapt for the new tv is estimated at $25, a considerable amount in a country of relatively low wages.

The two London contractors jointly have financed an advertising campaign to get set owners to convert in time for the September opening, with J. Walter Thompson handling the account. First campaign used evening papers to hit the big cities and saturate London, where the first telecasts begin.

Total number of tv subscribers today is 4½ million and has risen by a million per year since 1947, when the British tv boom began. Though television is old in Britain and was fairly well known even before the war, the field really opened about the same time as in the U. S. In 1947 there were 14,500 receivers extant.

Of the 1½ million sets in London now, it is estimated that¼ million will be ready to receive commercial telecasts in September, and the figure is expected to reach a million by six months after programs get underway.

The September London programs will be transmitted from a 60 kw temporary station built by Marconi at Croyden, 375 ft. above sea level. This arrangement will continue for about 18 months; there is talk of later sharing a mast with the BBC.

Sir Robert Fraser

Even with all the excitement stirred up by the debut of commercial tv, it is still considered tentative and experimental by many people. The Television Act, for example, provides that ITA go out of existence 10 years after its creation, to give Parliament and the British people a chance for a serious review. If it turns out “a complete hash,” as Britons put it, it can then be dropped completely.

The man at the top of ITA is a ministerial appointment, with emphasis on good taste and respectability in the person of Sir Kenneth Clark, a brilliant administrator with a fine arts background. Sir Kenneth directed Britain’s National Gallery at the tender age of 31. He became Director of the Ministry of Information’s film division during the war, and later became controller of home publicity. He was Slade Professor of Fine Arts at Oxford from 1946 to 1950, and in 1953 became Chairman of the Arts Council —a kind of highbrow impresario job of awarding subsidies to operas and art exhibitions.

ITA’s managing director Sir Robert Fraser, in a recent speech, explained his sanguine expectations. “If ever there was a country absolutely tailored for independent television, it is ours. Relatively short distances to cover with coaxial cables or micro-wave links, a high population density, vast numbers of people within the area of coverage of the main stations, a high standard of life, a buoyant demand for the kind of consumption goods suitable for television advertising, and powerful, responsible, lively and clever organizations ready to produce the programs. Unless we make howling blunders,” he concluded, “it will surely be a success!”

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