Morgan Pritchett
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The History and Evolution of Cars and Television Programming

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man watching television
Will streaming services end the era of car commercials?
Photo: Mohamed Mahmoud Hassan

In the last 20 years, television has changed. A lot. It wasn’t too long ago that you would either race home to catch your show live or set your VCR to record it so you could watch it later. As New York Observer writer Frank Navasky once said in the 1998 film You’ve Got Mail, “The whole idea of a VCR is that it makes it possible for you to tape what’s on television while you’re out of the house. But the whole point of being out of the house is so you can miss what’s on television.”

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One vital part of the television viewing experience was the presence of advertisements. Whether it was a celebrity past their prime shilling vitamins and supplements or a major retail company pandering to a certain group of people, ads were once a huge part of TV — especially for automakers. When a brand was debuting a new model, you definitely knew about it from the either epic or incredibly cheesy commercial that aired during Friends or Monday Night Football.

New cars meant new shows

Typically, automakers would debut their new vehicles between August and October of each year. With that in mind, television executives realized more people would be inclined to watch those ads if there was a new program to go along with it. Thus, the fall schedule of television was created. September was known as TV’s New Year where returning programs would come back or entirely new shows would release pilot episodes.

This process of releasing programs in the fall has worked for quite some time, as most people enjoyed television by purchasing cable or premium networks that always show commercials. But in today’s world of streaming services and social media programming, some people don’t even see an ad while watching their favorite show.

What streaming means for car advertising

We’ve already seen a change in television and how it’s presented to the public and, as a result, automakers are following suit. They’ve moved to advertising online via social media and before YouTube videos. For Hulu’s subscription that features ads, many car brands have created commercials that are short and sometimes even relate to the show’s content. Automakers are also releasing models year-round (or whenever they please, really) instead of solely in the fall timeframe.

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Now, none of this is particularly monumental. But with even more companies creating ad-free streaming services, it brings about a question that car dealerships will soon need to ask themselves: How do we continue to connect with people? It’s certainly something to think about and something we’re not even sure of here at The News Wheel. But we’re definitely intrigued to see how car advertisements evolve in the digital world.