To Second-Guessing Viewers, TV Is Hobby -- But It Still Needs Professional Fix

by , Jan 30, 2008, 12:45 PM
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LAS VEGAS -- "Television remains America's hobby," said former MTV executive, now media investor, Bob Pittman, at the recent National Association of Television Program Executives meeting.

If that's the case, it needs more glue.

Like collecting railroad sets, tea cozies, or Capodimonte figurines, TV is a pastime for passionate consumers -- not a profession, but a sideline for weekend leisure pursuit warriors.

We all think we know what ABC's Steve McPherson, NBC's Ben Silverman, Fox's Kevin Reilly, CBS' Nina Tassler and CW's Dawn Ostroff need.  

Everybody not only has an opinion about TV, they all know how to fix it. They know what adhesive to use. Just bring back "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," or "Jericho" or "Deadwood."

Did someone think Silverman should revive a seemingly tacky syndicated athletic contest in "American Gladiators," or that McPherson should reconfigure a lame pilot called "Brothers & Sisters" or that Fox should do another yet another morally tawdry reality show in "Moment of Truth"?  We all sniff at those decisions.

But when those big executives, who get paid the big dollars, make those impossible choices, we armchair-quarterback the results -- our leisure pursuit, their profession.

For business owners, investments in TV stations can be a hobby. For example, in recent periods, TV stations have been selling at historically low earning multiples.

But Pittman says it's also a good business because even in sucky times, local TV advertisers look to spend money -- to advertise -- to get out of trouble. Good TV operators should be smart not only in competing with other TV enterprises, but troubled non-TV media platforms like newspapers, yellow pages, even radio.

In a similar line of thinking, NBC Universal's Jeff Zucker also believes TV stations are a good business -- just as long as it's not only about TV.

NBC's new station division is called "NBC Local Media" because Zucker wants those stations to be more than just TV. He wants them to connect with all new local media -- Internet, out of home, and other new digital technologies.

If TV is a consumer hobby -- perhaps made up of easily breakable pieces like porcelain collectibles -- then business owners should get more adhesive to hold it together.

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