The enduring anachronisms of American TV selling

Stephen White and Charles Dawson

Jim Croce's Ballad Time in a Bottle became a posthumous hit in America in 1974. In an eerie way the words also reveal the attitudes behind America's vast television advertising sales market, and how it sells its wares:

'If I could save time in a bottle
The first thing that I'd like to do
Is to save every day
Till eternity
Passes away'

In the US, time is traditionally 'bottled' for sale to advertisers like jars of dill pickles. Tradition is strong, and immense effort and ingenuity has gone into pickling and preserving an ad sales system that has remained fundamentally the same since the Beverly Hillbillies were the biggest thing on TV. Big networks grew fat on that system, and powerful interests want the old, familiar ways kept going 'till eternity passes away'. Those who control the system have repeatedly seen off attempts to change it. Now pressure for change is in the air again.