The TV Model Is Broken

I love television. I’m a student of the media. It was incredibly important in shaping who I’ve become.

TV’s model is broken.

There were seven channels in NYC when I grew up. Most cities had less.

No remote control. No DVR or VCR. You watched it when it aired. If two shows you wanted to see aired simultaneously–tough.

In 1960, Gunsmoke finished the season in first place:

1 Gunsmoke CBS 40.3 rating 65 share

That’s 40% of all homes and 65% of those homes where the TV was turned on!

Last week’s number one entertainment show was “Big Bang Theory.” It had a 5.1 rating.

In those more innocent days you had to be careful not to get hit by the falling bags of money! Not today.

Before WTNH was sold in 1985, Geraldine Fabrikant wrote this in the New York Times:

The jewel in the ABC-Capital Cities package is WTNH-TV, the Capital Cities station affiliated with ABC, that covers the New Haven and Hartford markets. Its 1984 net revenue was $24.9 million, and operating income was $14.6 million. That meant operating profit margins of 58 percent. During the past five years, the margin has never been lower than 58 percent, and it has been as high as 62 percent.

They took in $25 million at 8 Elm Street for an operation that cost $10 million to run!

Those days are long gone. Though the broadcast networks and their affiliates are still the dominant force, their audience is a fraction of what it was.

Technology has been the difference. The pie has been sliced into many more smaller pieces.

Whether they take advantage or not, most people are currently equipped to see shows without benefit of television. We’ve got computers and tablets and smartphones and they’re all very capable of video playback.

I knew Saturday Night Live was going to be good last night because I read tweets from the East Coast. Why did I have to wait to see the show? Only because it breaks television’s business model!

The same with this afternoon’s Cowboys/Redskins game. It wasn’t on in SoCal. I wanted to see it and did… don’t ask. Free and easy access to all the games breaks television’s business model.

We need local TV. We need local news and other local programming (scant as it is), but won’t have it for long unless TV stations find a new business model.

I can see a future where shows will stand on their own without a station or network. Netflix productions are a step in that direction, but why do you even need Netflix?

TV’s current model is broken. The more viewers realize it, the harder it will be to hold back the tide.

Times Change–Prices Too

You get a more stations nowadays, but they’re nowhere near as profitable.

Back when I was searching for gainful employment I made a hard push for an opening at KGTV in San Diego. I didn’t get the job. In retrospect that’s fine. Actually, it’s now finer. McGraw-Hill just announced KMGH has been sold.

I wish the folks at KMGH the best. The period between this type of announcement and a transaction’s closing is often unpleasant. The seller has every incentive to take a short term attitude and spend as little as possible. The product (and morale) suffer.

McGraw-Hill is known as a good company. Maybe they’ll be different?

It was interesting to see what $212 million buys in 2011.

The Broadcasting Group includes ABC affiliates in Denver, Colorado (KMGH-TV), San Diego, California (KGTV), Bakersfield, California (KERO-TV), Indianapolis, Indiana (WRTV) and Azteca America affiliates in Denver, Fort Collins, Colorado Springs, San Diego and Bakersfield.

Here’s how that compares to 1985. That’s when WTNH was sold by CapCities.

An entity controlled by the partners of Whitcom Investment and Anchorage-based Cook Inlet Region Inc. has won the bidding for WTNH-TV, an ABC affiliate in the Hartford-New Haven area, for which it will pay about $170 million, according to the sources.

That’s one station, the building on State and Elm plus the transmitter facility in Hamden for $170 million. The Hartford/New Haven market is comparably sized to both Indianapolis and San Diego.

As the NY Times reported in 1985,

WTNH-TV’s 1984 operating income was $14.6 million on net revenue of $24.9 million, resulting in a 58 percent profit margin. Over the last five years, the margin has reached 62 percent and has never fallen below 58 percent. The station’s margins are unusually good.

Can you imagine?

27 Years On-Air In Connecticut

Their partnership would later find its way to court, but back then they were amazing.

It’s entirely fitting that on this my 27th anniversary of being on-the-air in Connecticut I am not on-the-air. It’s been an upheaval year for me here in the land of steady habits.

May 21, 1984 when I began at WTNH Action News I worked with Al Terzi and Geri Harris. Bob Picozzi was our sports guy. I replaced the beautiful and gracious Beverly Johnson. Our two other weather people were Linda Church (at WPIX for a long time) and Bruce MacFarlane.

One day Bruce sort of disappeared and I’ve never heard from or of him again! Strange.

May I talk about Al? I loved working with Al. It can be argued he is the best known television personality in Connecticut.

He always listened to what I said and laughed when he thought I was trying to be funny–even when I failed. On TV that is the finest example of team player. I will always be grateful.

I remember that first September choppering up to the Big “E” with Al. We flew in this little bubble Engstrom cramped in with Al Notzel the pilot. As we walked into the grounds it was as if Al was a Deity. I have never seen more heads turn.

Geri on the other hand didn’t seem to get me. It felt like she disapproved of me every night on TV.

Later Al and Geri were moved off and John Lindsay and Janet Peckinpaugh were brought in. Lindsay never seemed to make the geographic commitment and soon returned to Colorado.

Al Terzi who had been demoted was paired with Janet Peckinpaugh. Their partnership would later find its way to court, but back then they were amazing.

Whatever “it” was Janet had plenty! She was the most glamorous anchor I’ve worked with. She was a real celeb. Viewers loved her. They couldn’t get enough.

My bosses were Mike Sechrist and Wendi Feinberg. I am still very close with both. I have thanked them dozens of times for this opportunity.

Helaine says I still have a lot of TV left in me. It’s good I’m not done yet.

Tim Wright Retires

If you don’t know Tim I ask you to judge his impact by the people who showed. I know I’m going to forget names so feel free to remind me.

Tim Wright’s been a shooter at Channel 8 for 31 years. He retired tonight. There are few in government, sports and politics who hadn’t run across Tim. Everyone in the media knows him. He is among the most relaxed people I know. No one laughs more, or more distinctly.

If you don’t know Tim I ask you to judge his impact by the people who showed. I know I’m going to forget names so feel free to remind me.

Bob Picozzi, Skip Church, Diane Smith. Kenn Venit. Former General Manager Lew Friefeld. Former everything else manager Stan Roman. Roseann. Nancy. Lisa. Nyberg, Kountz, Kramer, Baghdady, Finz.

The Chief.

Erin Cox is a new mother. She looked fabulous. She was radiant.

Tracey came after she dropped Tallulah off with Helaine. We are sitting.

Jose was upset with me.

Kent Pierce, Chris Velardi, Annie Roarke, Jocelyn (like Cher one name is sufficient), Kristen (ditto).

Rachel came from Boston.

Johnny Mongillo, the world’s most interesting man.

Connie and Marylee.

Dobratz and Pierson (unshaven and very Hollywood).

The food and open bar were on NABET the union that serves Channel 8’s photographers, engineers, floor crew, producers and directors. Thanks.

Tm’s been through film, then carrying a camera and large tape deck. We later shifted to camcorders — still bulky and now smaller and less expensive (though technically superior) cameras.

He has toted gear in every kind of bad weather imaginable. While reporters are in the truck writing stories guys like Timmy Wright are often outside setting up the live shot.

Tim will retire to South Carolina where the snow seldom falls and where he’ll never be asked to stay overtime or work a sixth day.

Someone commented it was “good to see Tim leave standing.” Yes it was.

Click for Ann Nyberg’s photos from Facebook.

Behind-The-Scenes Control Room Video

The control room is where the real action takes place during a newscast or any show for that matter. It’s certainly the place you’re most likely to hear cursing or need Maalox!

When friends visit the TV station they usually say they want to be in the studio. I know better. I always let them watch a little from the control room.

The control room is where the real action takes place during a newscast or any show for that matter. It’s certainly the place you’re most likely to hear cursing or need Maalox!

With our new control room in an functioning I shot a little video of our 10 O’Clock newscast. Fred Valenti is at the controls of the Ignite system.

The New Control Room

The control room is just the most obvious addition in a project which will replace nearly every wire and piece of gear at the station. It’s a crazily complex project.

A new control room is being constructed at work. That’s actually an understatement because the control room is just the most obvious addition in a project which will replace nearly every wire and piece of gear at the station. It’s a crazily complex project.

Instead of the traditional broadcast switcher we’ll be using Ignite from Grass Valley. Think non-linear editor or PowerPoint for a live broadcast. It’s more structured than a legacy control room but it’s a whole lot less labor intensive which seems to be the goal everywhere nowadays.

Here’s a very short video to show you a little of where we are.