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.

9 thoughts on “The TV Model Is Broken”

  1. My pet peeve with today’s news reports (local or otherwise) is that most of it consists of puff pieces. The TV news departments are more concerned with ratings than news gathering. I believe it was not like that in the past when Huntley, Brinkley & Cronkite were the sources for hard news. The other things I miss are the editorials given by the news anchors. Back then it was alright to air their opinions during the broadcast and the networks gave opposing viewers their chance to air a rebuttal. Today, everyone is so afraid of offending someone, so they choose their words carefully when “reporting” the news. I’m finding that the best source for news reporting is the BBC which is aired on PBS.

    1. I think you overestimate the current profitability of TV news.

      Back when Cronkite and Huntley-Brinkley ruled there was virtually no competition during the news block. In most markets the network newscasts ran opposite one another. Independent stations were little competition. They could afford to cater to an audience more sophisticated and educated than the population in general. They would go out of business quickly doing that today.

      There’s a reason Bravo, History Channel and TLC (among others) aren’t true to their original loftier programming philosophies. Ditto with local news.

    2. You know I have to agree. Not only are there too many ‘puff’ pieces the news broadcasts are much longer (used to be a half hour local, half hour national, now ‘evening news’ starts at 4 in the afternoon) which means they need more ‘filler’ to make up the space. When local stations are scrambling for ratings during ‘sweeps’ we end up with pieces like ‘DANGEROUS TREES!!!!!’ and entire series about people being hurt by falling trees/tree limbs and ‘we get tag lines like ‘How safe are the trees in YOUR neighborhood?’ like every tree needs to be scrutinized before you walk under it. Stuff like that has created mass paranoia in the public where everyone must be constantly vigilant against some sort of vaguesly hinted at menace they heard about on TV.
      I don’t watch TV news any more…mostly because of this. Used to like Channel 8 weather…until they canned Geoff. Now I don’t bother at all. If I need local news I’ll get it online. If I can get through the popups and ads that is.

  2. I have started watching shows on MeTv, Cozi-TV, Antenna TV. They air mainly old shows from the 50’s & 60’s. Actually you can still watch them using an antenna. When I was living in So. CA, we had an antenna on our roof and picked up the TV signals from Mt Wilson. I know they added stations over the years since my parents bought our first TV, but we were still limited to 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, and 13. Finally 28 (PBS) was added and a few more channels like KDOC. With cable, there are to many channels to pick from now.

  3. Back in the 60’s we didn’t have all the technology that we do now. Somehow we survived. I remember if you had to go to make a phone call you had to go to a pho booth.Now we have everything in our hip pocket.

    1. I remind the ‘kids’ at work that when I was a kid color TV was a big thing and you only had 3 or 4 channels to choose from.
      Another world to them.

  4. Back in the 60’s we didn’t have all this tech. Somehow we survived. If you had to make a Phone call you had to actually go to a phone booth to make a call. I didn’t know from a a computer either. Now kids today have a computer in every classroom

  5. I agree with you, Geoff. It all seems to be dumbed down for the lowest common denominator. I’m only saying that it’s too bad that it had to come to this. The news is the news and that department shouldn’t have to worry about ratings and the almighty advertising dollar. Leave that up to the entertainment and sports divisions of the networks and let the news division do what it used to do well…report the news.

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