1. Netflix - Perhaps the company is in a precarious position as it looks to become the dominant hub for online streaming. Media companies control the content that powers it and could change strategy at any point, though Netflix says no one content provider has enough leverage to greatly alter its business. Plus, it apparently has lots of cash to throw their way, saying it can outbid HBO for a Warner Bros. package in a couple of years. Subscriber numbers continue to grow at impressive rates and its streaming functionality is exceedingly user-friendly.
2. iPad - The device hasn't been on the market for a year, and it's already poised to change how people watch TV with a bang. Forget about programming the DVR from the office, that's been around for a while. Comcast and Cablevision are set to allow people to watch their full TV line-up live on iPads as they wander around their homes. At some point, a Slingbox-like capability to tap into one's home TV anywhere in the world will be a reality. Before that, Nielsen has an intriguing product that allows networks to offer iPad users interactive content -- extra video, trivia, character bios -- live and in sync with the on-air broadcast. It's a money-maker: ABC has signed Lexus to sponsor the app for "Grey's Anatomy."
3. Comedy - The once-moribund genre has shot back with ABC's "Modern Family" and CBS' "Big Bang Theory." ABC is using its hit as an anchor to launch three hours of comedy on Wednesdays. "Bang" has given CBS a beachhead for laughing on Thursdays. NBC has started all-comedy Thursdays and last week saw "Outsourced" post NBC's highest rating in its time slot on the night this season. In cable, TV Land's "Hot in Cleveland," BET's "The Game" and now CMT's "Working Class" have set records for their networks. Nets are laughing all the way to the bank.
4. Charles Barkley - This guy could make this list every month. Hard to find a TV personality more universally loved. When a sports controversy emerges outside basketball, he's called on to weigh in as a sort of Yoda. In hoops, he provides insightful commentary. But that is pleasantly trumped by his self-deprecating personality, and willingness to allow others to poke fun at his expense. Later this month, he'll again shine on TNT's coverage of the NBA All-Star game. In March, he scored a key role as a commentator during March Madness.
5. Auto Advertising - Broadcasters may rue the Obama administration's FCC taking a role in some matters, but they should be writing thank-you cards for the administration's help in saving General Motors and Chrysler. GM is returning to the Super Bowl after two years off with five spots. Chrysler's CEO said Monday that with new models, the company needs to advertise and market smartly, and it will also be in the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, Ford posted $6.6 billion in profit in 2010, so it's got money to burn. Ford is not in the Big Game, but a slew of other auto marketers are. Auto advertising should continue to buoy networks for months after the final whistle Sunday.
Bleeders 1. MSNBC - The departure of Keith Olbermann leaves much of the network's success in prime time up in the air. More than anyone else, he gave MSNBC an identity as the anti-Fox News and helped it eclipse CNN in the evenings. Lawrence O'Donnell is a capable replacement in his time slot, but could be a placeholder until management decides what's next. Comcast has indicated it won't interfere with NBC's news content, but may believe NBC News is an underutilized asset and look to expand its presence -- which might mean less partisanship on MSNBC. For now, MSNBC has two advantages as it retools: this is not a Presidential election year and CNN may have more questions than it does.
2. The Oscars - Give the Academy credit for trying to bring in younger viewers with Anne Hathaway and James Franco as hosts. But it's not clear they have the type of comedic leanings that makes a host shine. Then again, Ricky Gervais does and some thought he blew it during the Golden Globes. A more pressing issue could be the seeming lack of a film that might bring in a large audience. Have enough people seen "Social Network" to do it? Last year's ratings were strong, and there appears to be an increased interest in live events, which should help ABC.
3. VH1 -- MTV may be flying and back at the center of the pop-culture ecosystem. But its sister network could use some juice with a "Jersey Shore"-type hit. Ratings in both the 18-to-49 and 18-to-34 demo are down 30% or more this season by at least one measure. Fortunately, as with MTV, Viacom has tons of dough to keep the development pipeline going and hits can emerge out of nowhere.
4. Canoe Ventures - It soon will have a platform to run interactive ads in an impressive 20 million homes, CEO David Verklin said. But those homes, which may be mostly served by Comcast and Time Warner Cable, bringing the challenge of adding footprints from its other cable operator partners. Then of course, much depends on networks willing and able to sell advertisers on running the Canoe-enabled ads. If there are no press releases with success stories announcing takers by June, that could be a sign of more work to do. Also, with two Canoe champions, Landel Hobbs at Time Warner Cable and Steve Burke at NBC Universal, now on to other things, will that slow its progress?
5. ESPNUT - Will a 24/7 network devoted to University of Texas sports hook large audiences? Hard to fathom. The network will apparently only offer one football game exclusively -- the sport that matters most in the Longhorn state -- and a limited number of basketball games. Track and field, swimming, even baseball, don't figure to be ratings winners. And with sports radio, will people really tune in for pre-, post-, mid-week, late-night and more coverage of football? One thing is for sure: the network will make money. If for no other reason than ESPN will use its muscle to ensure distributors offer it and pay well to do so.