Commentary

Too Many Broadcast Execs

Apparently there are still too many broadcast executives. It's enough that they seem to infest the broadcasting industry, but they're really doing damage to the online and the integrated media. In answer to the problem of a sinking broadcasting business model (programming served to users on a take-it-or-leave-it schedule), they've decided to export the idea to the online industry. This is sort of like an 18th century doctor helping reform the then-unscientific medicine industry by teaching the practice of leaching to lawyers.

Yahoo's current vision of getting all of us freeloading web users to start paying up involves offering a paid service that would allow us to (gasp!) view network broadcast programming online. That would be, mind you, the same programming that offline we ignore for free. Apparently, the privilege of seeing freely available television programming squeezed down to a tiny, poor quality video window should cost somewhere around four or five dollars a month. They must have the same consultant AOL uses.

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A couple of months ago, to great fanfare, AOL announced its big strategic move to - you can see this coming - offer what was once free on TV for money online. It sort of makes you think, "Have they met any of us?!" We web users are a notoriously cheap bunch, expecting our web content to be free, and if it isn't free it darned well shouldn't be free elsewhere.

I think this smells like the "Los Angeles Effect." In the rush to kick the Internet era people out of various boardrooms, the traditional media executives, long skulking behind the drapes, have come out in force and seem to have a very high opinion of the content they've been producing for six decades.

They seem to hark back to the days when media executives could manipulate what people saw based on scheduling, creating deliberate scarcities and gluts of various types of content and advertising inventory. But us pesky media consumers keep whining about wanting to control what we see, when we see it. The broadcaster's desires don't seem to mesh with the market's increasingly restive behavior.

Which gives rise to an interesting question: Is the presence of a television executive the kiss of death for an internet related business? Should you sell all your stock in a company once it "jumps the shark" by hiring some former programming director? I'm beginning to think so. I remember back in the halcyon early 90s, when interesting video on demand trials were being conducted by the then-smaller Bell Atlantic. I was playing with the engineers one morning out in Reston, Virginia, when one of the PR folks came through giving a tour of the place to some studio and television executives. Just hearing the cast-off words from their passing conversation made us all look at one another and shudder. They spoke of controlling the schedule, using the set top box as a content promotion tool, selling through a very cool and expensive technology merely what they already gave for free over the airwaves. To make a long story short, that was the beginning of a pretty quick project implosion. To use the lexicon of the day, TV programs turned out not to be the "killer app," which was obvious to about everyone in the world except for the stunted souls who produced it.

This was a lesson we learned ten years ago. We don't need to learn it again.

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