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Television -- As We Know It -- Is Finished


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#1 OFFLINE   mreposter

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Posted 17 August 2009 - 05:05 PM

TheWrap Report

Multi-part article/commentary proposing that network television is at the beginning of a structural tailspin, the total collapse of the traditional model of network television.

Here's an excerpt:

"This is a turning point," argues Bob Garfield, author of the just-released media doomsday tome "The Chaos Scenario" and the long-time critic for Advertising Age.

He believes networks will continue to bleed ad dollars, which will lead them to reduce original scripted programming, thus causing deeper ratings declines.... and even further drops in ad revenue.

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#2 OFFLINE   bidger

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Posted 17 August 2009 - 05:19 PM

Thanks for the link mreposter.

It really comes as no surprise. This is the part I don't like:
"Garfield believes NBC's move is just the beginning of an even more significant shift away from scripted hours.

"Get used to no new episodes of 'Lost' and '24,' and seeing Jay Leno eight days a week," he says. "The number of scripted sitcoms and dramas will continue to diminish. And the number of episodes of 'Dancing with the Stars' and 'The Biggest Loser' will increase.""

They lose me as a viewer then. They'll save money, but I'll look elsewhere. I know they can live with that. You have to wonder how Sports plays into this since the NFL is the only one that can generate consistent ratings. And CW, just die already. I never really consider you a network anyway, you're just the ******* child of WB and UPN.

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#3 OFFLINE   Herdfan

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Posted 17 August 2009 - 08:11 PM

They lose me as a viewer then. They'll save money, but I'll look elsewhere. I know they can live with that.


Can they? I wonder.

I see the network model slowly dying a slow death. Supporting multiple affiliates in hundred of markets won't work as more and more "cable" channels produce better scripted programming. And as cable network programming becomes more popular, the fees the cable channels are able to extract from cablecos and satcos will increase, but will provide the revenue stream that advertising no longer is able to.

#4 OFFLINE   Stewart Vernon

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Posted 17 August 2009 - 09:05 PM

I don't think there's anything really wrong with the network model...

They just need to adjust their expectations in the modern era of 500+ channels.

Back when there was just 1 channel in a market and not much on even then... there was no choice.

Then as more channels and networks came, we had the "big 3" for quite a while... so even being in last place meant a lot of viewers and revenue.

But in modern times ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, etc need to re-adjust their expectations. In my mind they are no better or worse than any other channel I can choose to watch.

I happen to like a lot of network TV... but there are just as good programming choices on cable-only channels too.

With so many choices, they just have to lower their expectations and operate accordingly.

IF they gut their own viewership by dropping viable programming that we are watching... they will not be helping themselves.

If they cut programs that nobody is watching, then that's fine... but if they try and cut good programming for cost reasons to reap more profit by lowering the programming budget... they can expect to find their ratings might continue to drop.

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#5 OFFLINE   scooper

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Posted 17 August 2009 - 09:21 PM

I can understand that the budgets of different shows will be cut significantly.

But most of this "reality" programming just bores me.

The studios may have to shift their focus of "scripted shows" back to the models of the 70's and 80's. Good acting and stories are more important than flashy effects, at least IMO.
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#6 OFFLINE   Henry

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Posted 17 August 2009 - 10:14 PM

If you're gong to thive, let alone survive, you have to bend with the wind. All corporations do it, why should networks be any different? Are we now watching the same TV as 20 or 30 years ago?
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#7 OFFLINE   Mark Holtz

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Posted 17 August 2009 - 10:48 PM

It's getting much harder to get invested in a TV series nowadays. The networks have played enough "games" with the viewers by either playing with the start times, making unannounced time slot changes, or giving some series extremely short order, and not allowing a series to develop an audience. Add in the graphics and bugs to advertise other series, and many of us are turned off.

Check my previous posts. I only have DirecTV nowadays to keep my mother happy. The day she passes away, which shouldn't be for quite a while, that's when I cancel my subscription.

Right now, I have only two series on my DirecTiVo. And Ice Road Truckers concludes this Sunday. There are only two network series that interest me this fall, and those are Lost and Amazing Race.
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#8 OFFLINE   phrelin

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Posted 18 August 2009 - 12:55 AM

Funniest darn thing. There was a pretty good six part series entitled The Screen Writers Guild strike, technology, and scripted television in November 2007.

I don't quite buy the "doomsday tome" scenario mentioned in TheWrap Report article linked in the original post above even though I did say in Part IV of that 2007 series:

Neither television industry executives, nor the writers, nor any of us viewers know where scripted episodic drama and comedy programming will end up within five years. We need to think in terms of media, source of funding, format or survival.

Yeah, gone are the days of the $1+ million an episode for an actor in a half-hour sitcom. In fact getting a million for a one hour drama episode is going to be tough.

But in 2007 I didn't foresee the 2009 rise of the cable channel scripted shows. Nor did anyone else that I read. As I said at the end of Part IV:

While the home entertainment industry struggles to cope with changes over he next 5-to-10 years, viewers who want to watch scripted tv will need to adapt. That’s us, folks. And that’s what this blog about.

What's most disturbing about the TheWrap Report article, besides the fact that the advertising industry has just figured this out, is that they don't mention that the local broadcast channels and the national broadcast networks are seriously thinking about making up the revenue they've lost by charging high fees to cable and satellite companies. The fees are for the right to deliver to viewers the programs they offer OTA for free using a federal license that gave them monopoly rights to the airways if they operated in the public benefit.

And so far we, the viewing public, have not let out a word of protest to Congress. Well, I and a few others have, but most haven't.

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#9 OFFLINE   bicker1

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Posted 18 August 2009 - 05:25 AM

If you're gong to thive, let alone survive, you have to bend with the wind. All corporations do it, why should networks be any different? Are we now watching the same TV as 20 or 30 years ago?

Good point. Television, as we knew it, is finished every year -- every year is different from the next in some way.

I think it is easy to confuse yourself by looking at things as "current minus". Reality doesn't work that way. Instead, the networks must look at each day from the standpoint, "What can we do today to best serve our owners' best long-term interests?" The answer, unfortunately, may very well be filling the airwaves with increasingly less expensive programming. Remember, the objective is not audience. The objective is revenues. What we, as viewers, want may not have any relationship to what would be best to provide.

I do think that sports plays a lot into this. ESPN has almost single-handedly driven up the price of licensing presentation of sporting events, but I think there is still value to be derived, not just from existing sporting events, but from deliberately fostering new obsessions. The Average Joe does seem to be ripe for cultivation of such obsessions, and it is very clear that serving such obsessions is one of those things that broadcast television does as well if not better than any other medium, at least for now. And it doesn't stop with sports. After all, sports is expensive. By creating new obsessions (Survivor, American Idol, Big Brother, etc.) broadcast television is serving its owners' best interests very well.

NBC is today's favorite whipping boy, but that's more a reflection of the critics' need to assess blame (instead of accept reality) than a reflection of anything NBC is doing wrong. They're doing what everyone always says a company should do: Listen to your customer! The issue is that far too many customers have been far too unwilling to reward the kind of programming that many of us would like to see presented, and has been far too willing to reward the kind of programming that many of us would not like to see presented. Consumers (in this case, viewers) like to try to disclaim their responsibility for motivating suppliers (in this case, broadcasters) to do what they want them to do. That's nothing but making excuses though. The way the world works is that if you want something, you make it worthwhile for someone to give it to you. They're going to find whatever rewards them the most, to spend their time on. It is unreasonable to expect anything other than that.

I think Herdfan's insight is good, in this regard, but perhaps a little overly optimistic. Clearly, great programming needs to be driven by motivation, i.e., revenues. However, I see so many cable and satellite subscribers already bitching and moaning about how much they pay. Even if cable channels start adding back a few minutes of programming into each hour, I doubt that subscribers will happily start paying $4-$5 per channel. I think we viewers are basically pushing on the system from both sides, unreasonably expecting a miracle to pop-up from the middle, but in reality what's going to happen is that suppliers will just pull back, producing less and lesser content, because the rewards for producing more and better content evaporated.

Stewart, I think your argument has a gaping hole in the middle. Expecting networks to lower their expectations (for revenues) without expecting viewers to lower their expectations (for programming) is unreasonable. Every dollar invested always competes with every other possible way of investing that dollar. As soon as the decline in the value of viewership reaches the point where broadcasters (and we're not talking about ABC, NBC and Fox, here, but rather Disney, General Electric and News Corp.) would be better off cutting back their investments in broadcasting and redirecting that capital to other efforts, or worse, just into financial investments, that is what they're going to do, and what they should do, by all rights. Even if others enter the marketplace, given the depressed revenue potential of the marketplace, you're basically talking about fostering Wal-Mart-like networks, not some magical network that offers Tiffany-like programming for pittance. The only way something like that could happen is if it is subsidized, either by public funds or by private funds. And in a way, that's one reason why CBS will lag behind the others in terms of the decline of their programming: CBS is closely-held by people who like to see television be the way they want it to be, with less regard for the money. CBS may perhaps end up as the last big remnant of vanity media.

Scooper, I think the problem there is that writers are artists and good writers know that they're worth a lot. While often programs suffer from outrageous salary expectations of actors, it is actually very common for the producers and writers to be the sticking point in terms of profitability. Indeed, personally, I think that there are thousands and thousands of great actors -- with only minor exceptions, any television role could readily be filled by any number of actors with relatively little difference in the quality of the end-product, except with regard to the value of name-recognition on the marketing of the program. I cannot say that about producers and writers: I think being a great creator of television programming is far more rare than being a similarly, singularly-unique actor.

Mark talked about networks playing "games", but let's be fair: we viewers play even more significant "games". Most notably, we ignore, and sometimes even skip over, commercials. Our attention to commercials, and the extent to which we allow commercials to shape our buying decisions, is what makes our viewership valuable. It is our contribution to the system. There can be no more significant "game" than finding a way to take without giving. Don't get me wrong: I'm not suggesting that viewers have an obligation to watch commercials. I'm not giving up my DVR, and I'm going to exploit its capabilities to the max, without reservation. What I'm saying is that there is a cost to our playing such "games" and that cost is far more significant than the cost of the "games" that the networks play.

#10 OFFLINE   bicker1

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Posted 18 August 2009 - 05:35 AM

... What's most disturbing about the TheWrap Report article, besides the fact that the advertising industry has just figured this out, is that they don't mention that the local broadcast channels and the national broadcast networks are seriously thinking about making up the revenue they've lost by charging high fees to cable and satellite companies. The fees are for the right to deliver to viewers the programs they offer OTA for free using a federal license that gave them monopoly rights to the airways if they operated in the public benefit.

Let's be careful with loaded words. You cannot have four or five companies each being a monopoly. Monopoly means ONE.

Beyond that, retransmission consent, which is what you're talking about, completely takes the television station out of the public airwaves scenario. They are of course still obligated to satisfy the expectations reasonably placed on any OTA channel, as an OTA channel, but once a station elects retransmission consent, they are no different from any cable channel, with regard to cable/satellite. All your expectations, reasonable and unreasonable, with regard to what an OTA channel should be doing in return for use of the public airwaves apply only to the fact and in the context of the station as an OTA channel -- there is no foundation for applying additional expectations in the context of their relationship with cable and satellite services, once they elect retransmission consent. Quite the opposite. They are giving up the right to assert must-carry, and that is payment for the right to operate as any cable channel operates, with regard to cable.

And so far we, the viewing public, have not let out a word of protest to Congress.

That's because protesting retransmission consent, a provision explicitly granted by law (i.e., not an oversight or mistake), would be indefensible in the context you implied. There would be no foundation, legal, moral or ethical, that would serve as justification for imposing any requirements on a television channel electing retransmission consent that is not imposed on any cable channel. You can place requirements on OTA channels, in general. For that there is some justification, but to oppose, obstruct or punish retransmission consent is ridiculous.

#11 OFFLINE   SayWhat?

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Posted 18 August 2009 - 05:42 AM

But most of this "reality" programming just bores me.

The studios may have to shift their focus of "scripted shows"


"The number of scripted sitcoms and dramas will continue to diminish. And the number of episodes of 'Dancing with the Stars' and 'The Biggest Loser' will increase.""


You don't think those are scripted?
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#12 OFFLINE   Mark Holtz

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Posted 18 August 2009 - 05:59 AM

Shows you might have watched during the 1989-90 Television Season:
  • Murder, She Wrote
  • Married... with Children
  • MacGyver
  • Murphy Brown
  • 21 Jump Street
  • The Wonder Years
  • Roseanne
  • Rescue 911
  • Doogie Howser
  • Quantum Leap
  • Knots Landing
  • Dallas
  • The Golden Girls
  • The Cosby Show
  • Cheers
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation
  • LA Law
And, in 1979-80:
  • Battlestar Galactica
  • All in the Family
  • Alice
  • WKRP in Cincinnati
  • M*A*S*H
  • Little House on the Prairie
  • Happy Days
  • Laverne and Shirley
  • Three's Company
  • Taxi
  • Eight is Enough
  • Charlie's Angels
  • Vega$
  • Mork and Mindy
  • Barney Miller
  • The Waltons
  • Hawaii Five-O
  • The New Adventures of Wonder Woman
  • The Incredible Hulk
  • The Rockford Files
  • Love Boat
  • Fantasy Island
  • CHiPs
  • Dallas
  • Diff'rent Strokes
  • The Dukes of Hazzard
Of course, in both schedules, there was a two hour slot in several places for a movie... which doesn't occur anymore.
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#13 OFFLINE   MIKE0616

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Posted 18 August 2009 - 06:36 AM

You don't think those are scripted?



of course they are unscripted, that is what the writers guild says. :) Now as to whether the outcomes are predetermined................ :D

#14 OFFLINE   bicker1

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Posted 18 August 2009 - 06:47 AM

Indeed, you can be sure if it was scripted the Writers' Guild would be prosecuting their primacy to the fullest extent of the law. And if the outcomes were predetermined, there would be similar legal action ensuing. The reality is that reality shows are not scripted: Reality shows are edited, and excellent editing is often better than scripting for creating drama. Also, the outcomes of contests are not predetermined: That's just a undefended and baseless accusation that people who hate reality shows regularly emit.

#15 OFFLINE   SayWhat?

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Posted 18 August 2009 - 06:54 AM

Also, the outcomes of contests are not predetermined:


Somebody once told me the moon was made of green cheese too.
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#16 OFFLINE   bidger

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Posted 18 August 2009 - 06:57 AM

Can they? I wonder.


Based on the ratings those shows I avoid like the plague pull in, I have no doubt they don't care about losing some viewers.

You don't think those are scripted?


Well, I was quoting from the article, but I would say reality shows are more "staged" than "scripted".

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#17 OFFLINE   bicker1

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Posted 18 August 2009 - 07:09 AM

Somebody once told me the moon was made of green cheese too.

The difference is that that was a falsehood, and the fact that contests aren't fixed is a matter of law, with mechanisms in place for people to prosecute fairness. There are too many people who would be in a position to know to keep the evidence suppressed.

Saying that contests are fixed doesn't make them fixed. It just makes it clear that you're willing to cast categorical accusations without evidence, undermining the credibility of basically everything you assert.

#18 OFFLINE   bicker1

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Posted 18 August 2009 - 07:11 AM

Well, I was quoting from the article, but I would say reality shows are more "staged" than "scripted".

Yes, that's a great way of putting it. Imagine a television show where they just set up a camera, and filmed what was happening, somewhere, without any context, without any editing. That's called a traffic-cam. I'm sure some people sit watching traffic-cams, but the vast majority of people do not. Reality shows capitalize on their context and the editing to provide value to their viewers above what the viewers can get from just sitting by their window, or watching a traffic-cam.

#19 OFFLINE   mreposter

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Posted 18 August 2009 - 09:32 AM

Well, I was quoting from the article, but I would say reality shows are more "staged" than "scripted".


For "reality" shows like Big Brother and MTV's Real World, producers have to take hours and hours of footage and boil them down to a 30 or 60 minute show. There is a strong argument to be made that production teams edit the footage to create interesting characters and compelling storylines. Events are also staged, as with contests on Survivor. They may not be putting words in the mouths of actors, but they're definitely taking the words the participants say and shaping them for their own purposes.

Is this scripting? editing? staging? It's probably all of the above.
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#20 OFFLINE   phrelin

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Posted 18 August 2009 - 10:25 AM

Let's be careful with loaded words. You cannot have four or five companies each being a monopoly. Monopoly means ONE.

Beyond that, retransmission consent, which is what you're talking about, completely takes the television station out of the public airwaves scenario. They are of course still obligated to satisfy the expectations reasonably placed on any OTA channel, as an OTA channel, but once a station elects retransmission consent, they are no different from any cable channel, with regard to cable/satellite. All your expectations, reasonable and unreasonable, with regard to what an OTA channel should be doing in return for use of the public airwaves apply only to the fact and in the context of the station as an OTA channel -- there is no foundation for applying additional expectations in the context of their relationship with cable and satellite services, once they elect retransmission consent. Quite the opposite. They are giving up the right to assert must-carry, and that is payment for the right to operate as any cable channel operates, with regard to cable.

That's because protesting retransmission consent, a provision explicitly granted by law (i.e., not an oversight or mistake), would be indefensible in the context you implied. There would be no foundation, legal, moral or ethical, that would serve as justification for imposing any requirements on a television channel electing retransmission consent that is not imposed on any cable channel. You can place requirements on OTA channels, in general. For that there is some justification, but to oppose, obstruct or punish retransmission consent is ridiculous.

Oppose, obstruct or punish???
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Within the context of retransmission fees, who exactly gets punished by the mandatory requirement to carry all local OTA channels in a DMA if Dish or Direct decide to carry any local?

Does the requirement that prevents distants from being available to everyone obstruct the business of local stations or the public's access to competition?

Ok. "Monopoly" is the wrong word. Let's call it socialistic favorable preference from the government for a private business - local OTA stations - for no good reason.

The competition will be open only when someone who lives 500' from an ABC station's tower in Seattle can choose to watch an ABC station from Boston or Los Angeles. Let all satellite and cable companies offer each of the seven network from seven locals in each of the five different time zones (includes AK and HI) plus any other locals for which there was sufficient demand to justify the use of uplink and transponder resource. And let's requirein the public interest one local from each DMA for purposes of the local emergency broadcast system.

In each of those time zones, let those all network and independent locals in the region compete to get on Dish and Direct and Comcast. This would force any which want to be retransmitted to offer real local programming instead of "Friends" reruns or old movies or infomercials.

Right now, most OTA locals still exist because historically they recieved a federal license allowing them the use of our airwaves. Each does have a monopoly on the frequencies assigned. Before cable and satellite they had to compete with a few other OTA channels. Three of them in each DMA had the advantage of broadcast networks - that's what I call the 1958 model.

It isn't 1958, but those OTA stations still have control of frequencies in our airwaves. Fine. let them keep that.

But if I want to watch an Atlanta Fox channel, my Fox local shouldn't be in a position to stop me just because it has that license. And maybe that Atlanta channel can make some real money from relatively low retransmission fees because a large volume of people desire to watch it, not because they have a monopoly on the use of a frequency in our airwaves.

As I've said many times to anyone who'll listen or read, 2008 was a significant year for TV comparable to 1948 for radio. For in 2008 it was obvious to even the most obtuse that "TV" had become "tv" - generic for produced video - much like an "album" of 78 rpm phonograph records became an "album" of tracks on an LP, then a tape, then a CD, and now mp3 tracks.

In other words, local broadcast stations have no more claim to the term tv then Hulu.com has. What the government is doing is maintaining an anachronistic structure forcing us to pay for 78 rpm phonograph records in the era of the iPod.

The public is whose interest is being opposed, obstructed and punished to the benefit of owners of an anachronism - local broadcast stations.
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