Ratings: Servant or Master?
We have seen by now that ratings are indeed a feedback mechanism to the industry the same way that the human nervous system is to the human body. Advertisers started the first rating system in 1930 to assure themselves of the audience delivery of programs they sponsored. Until that time they were "flying blind," fed a maze of claims, faced with uncertainties. When did people listen? By the day? By the hour? What did they listen to? How many and what stations were received? Only an organized measurement of audience could provide answers. Without such answers, the broadcast media could never move ahead to today's prosperity. The Cooperative Analysis of Broadcasting (CAB) in 1930 established the essential feedback mechanism required to engender advertiser confidence.
Once established, the ratings system provided important decision-making data for advertisers' use of network radio because at that time commercial primetime programming was largely in their hands. Networks sold time, not programs, and had little control over their own schedules. 1 Advertising agencies, with assistance from talent agencies and some independent consultants, produced the programs in which the sponsor placed the commercials.
With the growth of television, a much more expensive medium, few advertisers could any longer sponsor weekly hours or half-hours but went to alternate- week sponsorship. As that too became unaffordable, the networks gradually took over the programming responsibility, and advertisers bought one-minute (later 30-second) commercial positions. This arrangement made it possible for advertisers to spread their advertising over more programs, networks, and time periods, a move made productive because nonduplicated cumulative ratings figures could