How The 90’s Tech Bubble Saved ‘The West Wing’ From Premature Cancellation

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If it weren’t for the excessive spending of late ’90s Silicon Valley startups, one of TV’s most iconic shows would likely have been axed by network executives. “Silicon Valley put the West Wing on television,” the show’s creator, Aaron Sorkin, tells The Ferenstein Wire.

Speaking at the annual Aspen Institute Atlantic Ideas festival, Sorkin credits Silicon Valley’s crazy ad spending for the show’s financial viability. “The show tested extremely well with people with home Internet access in 1999. And we were in the middle of the dotcom boom and they wanted some place to advertise.”

Sorkin recalls that a pilot of the show tested poorly with a focus group of average Americans. So, network executives leaned toward killing the show before it ever went to air. But then they tested the show again, this time with a novel population: educated, wealthier adults who were early adopters of dial-up Internet. It was a smash hit with this tech-obsessed group.

Had the show launched right before the excesses of dotcom advertising or after the tech bubble burst, there would have been no ad dollars to support West Wing. “One year later, one year earlier, West Wing never would have been on TV,” concludes Sorkin.

Indeed, early 2000s news articles chronicle how NBC quickly went from praising their new obsession with a “dotcom” audience to shedding jobs after its Internet advertising-related investments popped with the bubble.

Now, in the new tech economy, the trend continues. Silicon Valley ad dollars are once again flowing in abundance. For example, I live in the heart of San Francisco’s young tech boom, the Mission District. Pictured below is a slew of mailers for urban-focused startups, from shipping apps to exercise memberships, that were mailed to my house in just one week.

These companies are blanketing the city to raise awareness.

Larger tech companies, such as Airbnb, are also shelling out huge ad dollars on mass broadcasting networks, such as Hulu (I regularly see Airbnb ads while watching the ‘Daily Show’ online).

“These days, it’s big brands that make up the bulk of ad spend on [Facebook] and Twitter,” says Tim Chang, Managing Director at the Mayfield Fund investment firm. “But private companies and startups still spend a great deal on performance advertising, particularly in the cost-per-install app world.”

Tech companies always needs more users and their fat wallets are fueling many of the ad-based businesses, from Facebook to online television. So, the next time you see an ad for a tech company next to a movie, TV show, or news article, think about how that content may never have existed were it not for the ad.

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