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Traditionally, every summer the broadcast television networks launched marketing campaigns to spotlight their program offerings for the coming season. The campaigns were often uneventful and run-of-the-mill, with viewers and the media paying little notice. In 1997, however, ABC, Inc., unveiled a different kind of campaign created by TBWA\Chiat\Day in Los Angeles. The campaign, called "TV Is Good," was designed to help ABC break out of the traditional confines of network slogans and logos, and it created a stir.
Targeting viewers aged 18 to 49 and leveraging a budget of $12 million in its first season, "TV Is Good" directly addressed the guilt associated with watching television. Commercials featured messages that verged on the cynical, such as "Don't worry, you've got billions of brain cells," and "Life Is Short. Watch TV." While many in the media criticized the campaign's apparently insincere celebration of decadent TV-watching, the resulting debate about the merits of "TV Is Good" built considerable buzz around the ABC brand. A 1998–99 modification of the campaign, budgeted at $15 million and tagged "We Love TV," further contributed to ABC's emerging personality.
Although industry observers widely credited the overall campaign with contributing a distinct brand positioning to ABC, the network continued to suffer ratings declines. Because this was a problem endemic to broadcast TV at the time, however, such statistics were not an accurate measure of the success of the marketing campaign. During the 1999–2000 TV season and beyond, ABC continued to refine the marketing style and tone first introduced in 1997.
While ABC and the other two main broadcast networks, CBS Broadcasting Inc. (CBS) and the NBC Television Network (NBC), had enjoyed a virtual monopoly on prime-time television for decades, the 1980s saw increasing competition from cable television networks such as the Cable News Network (CNN) and Home Box Office (HBO) as well as the Fox Broadcasting Company. Cable networks gradually eroded the big three's dominance of the market. In 1977, 93 percent of households watched one of the big three networks, but 10 years later that figure had slipped to 70 percent. By 1996 the big three commanded only 49 percent of the prime-time audience, the first time ever that the combined share of ABC, CBS, and NBC had fallen below 50 percent.
Like CBS and NBC, ABC faced tough financial times in the 1980s, and it had to enact cost-cutting measures just to stay profitable. Capital Cities purchased ABC in 1985, and in 1995 it was bought by Disney. By 1996 ABC had fallen to third place in prime-time
ratings, with only 15 percent of all viewers, behind front-runners NBC (18 percent) and CBS (16 percent). The network decided that it had to seek a clear, strong image to compete with NBC and CBS and the various cable channels.
While television networks, as mass-media businesses, wanted to attract as many viewers as possible for their advertisers, ABC's 1997 campaign targeted a narrower market. The whimsical style of the "TV Is Good" campaign was specifically aimed at a youthful audience. During the early 1990s ABC was the number one network among the 18-49 age group, the market advertisers coveted; by 1997, however, the network had slipped to a distant second in this market. All efforts were directed at winning back this audience.
This tactic did not please everyone. For example, Joseph Turow, professor of media at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication, said of the "TV Is Good" campaign, "I don't think they care if it turns off people who are over the hill. Advertisers and networks are really getting manic about attracting people under 30." Alan Cohen, ABC's executive vice president for marketing, said that the network was not intentionally spurning people over 49. Cohen...