Can new TV ventures and media be clearly profitable -- or it that something we can leave in the muddle?
Four years into its existence, the still-young CW network isn't profitable. Yet, CW says it makes money for its partners -- Time Warner and CBS -- by producing programming those companies can then sell around the world. Shouldn't that be enough?
Hulu.com the sute of premium TV shows, is profitable, per the company. From all indications, You Tube, the bigger video Web site -- and Hulu rival -- should become profitable soon. But companies like these are always in flux, which changes their financial dynamics.
Let's add to the confusion: There's viewership erosion in broadcast by some estimates, like live program ratings. But then, according to other measures, there is more broadcast viewing -- thanks to all the time-shifting devices and the playback of shows days after their initial live airing.
What spells success? From all indications, you could include ABC's "Modern Family," CW's "The Vampire Diaries" and AMC's "Mad Men." But when looking at any of their viewership numbers side-by-side, you would get a confusing picture.
The ABC comedy is a broadly skewing series; CW's "Diaries" is strong with young women; and "Men" is mostly successful among narrowly targeted, high-income, middle-aged viewers.
Now let's get really fuzzy: Throw in rerun airings; international revenue; the marketing value in those shows in promoting other network series; salability for local affiliates; online revenue; branded entertainment and other advertising dollars.
Murky and mysterious is how the television industry works these days. But don't worry. It's probably not as dense or misleading as the U.S. financial economy pre-2008.
Facebook is trying to tell the world it can sell product with advertising on some of its 500 million members' pages. If there isn't value there, what exactly it is selling? YouTube started with a plan as well: free viewing of video shot by everyday people. Now it wants to become -- in part -- something else, sort of what Hulu wants to succeed at.
Twenty-first century media goals reside in the shortest of time frames: Start up a business that gains interest. Worry less about whether it makes financial sense. Worry more about whether it makes "buzz" sense to savvy media users, potential consumers, and cool-looking industry followers. Then worry no more.
Something will happen -- a new plan, a new owner. You just have to be a good initiator. Profit in media? That's so 20th century.