When television was first getting started many shows were actually created by their sponsors in order to have a medium to promote their products and services. The entertainment value of the show was secondary and the goal of selling a product or service was primary. However, the FCC eventually got involved and placed limits on how much advertising could actually take place within a television show. As a result, sponsors creating programs to advertise their products were done away with. This was not quite an infomercial, but it was certainly the pre-cursor to this type of advertising.
It is believed that the first North American infomercial occurred in the 1970s on XETV based out of San Diego. The program was a one-hour advertisement on Sundays on homes for sale in the local area. The FCC limits of 18 minutes of commercial time during a one-hour show did not apply because it was actually located in Mexico despite broadcasting its programs in English and to an American audience.
Commercial content that was highly regulated in the 1950s and 1960s found a new atmosphere in the 1980s when the Federal Communications Commission eliminated many of the regulations that had previously been in place. In 1984, infomercials truly got their beginning because there was airtime that could be used for their sole purpose. Perhaps the very first true infomercial was for the Ginsu Knife. The format was created by Barry Beecher and Edward Valenti for this very purpose.
Teleshopping, which is similar to the American infomercial, began in 1979 and became very popular in the UK during the 1980s. The television time that is frequently sold for infomercial advertising is sometimes purchased by televangelists to air their messages. Politicians buy these time frames, too.
In the beginning, infomercials most frequently were shown really late at night and very early in the morning as opposed to going off the air. However, over time stations found that airing infomercials at other times of the day could be quite profitable and now it is more common to see an infomercial during the morning, daytime, and even during early prime and prime time. Some stations do nothing more than air infomercial programming 24 hours per day.
One of the largest media buying agencies for any infomercial and DRTV spot is A. Eicoff & Co. of Chicago