In this time of media industry turmoil, Gertrude Berg’s long and successful media career highlights a variety of possible business models. Berg began her career in 1929 with a fifteen-minute radio show, The Rise of the Goldbergs. She wrote this show and also starred in it. By 1931 she was earning $2,000 a week from the show. She also developed product tie-ins, including a line of dresses and a cookbook. Her show became the second-most popular show on radio, behind only Amos ‘n Andy. Berg, with considerable persistence, ultimately succeeded in moving her radio show to television. She also starred in a related film and acted on Broadway. She became a widely recognized personality and the highest earning woman in the U.S.
Berg directly plugged sponsored products. Each episode of The Goldbergs opened with Berg, acting in character and within the set of the show, promoting the sponsored product. These promotions undoubtedly were much more valuable than advertisements distinctly separate from the programming. Such sponsorships were a common feature of radio and television programs until the late 1950s.
Advertising sponsorship revenue in the first half of 2010 was only 2% of total reported U.S. Internet advertising revenue. Sponsors no longer need separate media companies to communicate with their potential customers. But what Gertrude Berg offered sponsors was not just radio or television time and an assembled audience, but also the acted personality of Molly Goldberg. That latter asset would be valuable even in today’s much different media circumstances.
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