For Broadcast Networks, the end is coming and it’s time for them to Accept their fate. (The 2012 Emmy Nominations only strengthen this point.)
This isn’t to say ABC, CBS, FOX, MBS, NBC, Univision and The CW (and similar Broadcast Networks around the world) are going away. They’ll just have to transform into one of the million other “Channels” out there – high profile Channels with good programming and production values – but still just another button on the Great Media Grid like ESPN, TNT, USA, Oxygen, Justin.tv (indeed), YouTube, etc.
Over the past 20 years or so, Broadcast Networks have bounced around the First Four Stages in an effort to fight off the inevitable:
1. Denial: Broadcast Networks will always be the only place to reach a large audience. We don’t see that ever going away. No one is going to watch the shit they make on Cable. It’s nothing but George Foreman Grill infomercials and drunken Jackass teenagers riding their bikes into traffic.
2. Anger: It’s just not right! They make such crap on Basic Cable (again – see Emmy Nominations). How are they pulling in more advertising than us?! I don’t give a shit about the ratings of “Jersey Shore”, the content on Broadcast Networks is far superior and always will be. Goddamnit! And don’t you dare mention that fucking “Mad Men” to me again! And Hell will freeze over before we ever produce a series for that inferior platform. There’s no syndication value. It’s bullshit!
3. Bargaining: The playing field is not level. It’s not fair. We really need you cable and satellite operators to pay us to retransmit our signal. Don’t forget – we’re the Broadcast Networks. If you give us two revenue streams, we’ll give you really great programming with high ratings and advertising rates that are healthy for everyone. Don’t you realize there is only one place to reach a large audience?
4. Depression: Remember when Saturday night was the greatest night on television – when three networks (and three network Presidents) controlled every household? Everyone had incredible line-ups. It will never be that good again. Thursday night used to be a place where advertisers needed us to launch a new movie or car or department store sales. Those were the days. Oh well, at least we still have our beach houses and court side basketball seats.
5. Acceptance: It’s going to be okay. It’s not so bad to be equated with TBS. I mean, they have Conan O’Brien now. They are sort of like a Broadcast Network. And we’re still bigger than most of the other Channels. And we’ll get the Super Bowl back one day (after ESPN and The Food Network have their turns). It’s all good.
The death of Broadcast Networks may not happen in the next five years but it IS going to happen and the sooner we put them out of their misery and end that painful decline, the faster the industry can heal and begin to grow again.
And even though every year in May, the upfronts always seem to break new records (and the Broadcasters will shout that fact from the rooftops in the Trades), make no mistake, nothing can be done to save Broadcast Networks.
It’s an old concept in a new world.
For old school TV executives and their Madison Avenue chronies who are accustomed to lavish Upfront Presentations at Carnegie Hall, Madison Square Garden and the International Space Station, it’s time to just let it go. The Days of Wine and Roses and Fine Dining and Muffin Baskets are over.
Broadcast Network defenders (yes, Les Moonves, this means you) are finding fewer and fewer allies in their argument. Face the facts, ESPN and Google are more valuable than CBS. It may not seem fair – but there are many new Sheriffs in town. Remember, if you’re in a business where single-digit drops in viewers is the New Growth, your business sucks.
So what are the Broadcast Networks supposed to do next? Very simple. Just accept equal footing (two revenue streams – subscription and advertising – enough with this silly Retrans business that no one can understand) and continue to run your business as just another Channel on the Grid.
In the future (and it’s coming), with a channel lineup grid that will be sorted Alphabetically and not by “importance” or “size” (and will include TV channels, websites and whatever else comes up) programming is, as it always has been, King .
And may the best programmer win.
Jill Kennedy – OnMedea