Every year, the networks would premiere a new slate of programs and every year, almost all of them would fail and the next spring the networks would raise their advertising rates because, really, you couldn’t do much better than advertising there. That’s what they would say.
I don’t know why I put any of that in past tense. It’s the same old story today.
The other day a pretty brilliant column by Variety’s Brian Lowry made me think of just how lamely network television is still responding to clear signs their programming strategy is just decrepit. It reminded me of when Randy Newman, noting about old rock musicians who just don’t give up (and truthfully, including himself) sang “I’m Dead (But I Don’t Know It.)”
The networks could be singing that song, buffeted as they are by online video offerings ranging from YouTube to Netflix.
But the networks don’t sing.
Lowry has watched dozens of the new pilot episodes for this season. And they are, with a few exceptions, just like stuff every other year. He marveled at how seemingly unaware the networks are that the whole network style—almost the very sound of network TV in my opinion—is wrong. It’s like going into a once famous restaurant and recognizing all the photos on the walls are of famous stars and slinky starlets from the LBJ years. You know you’re going to start the night with a relish tray.
“So what’s going on here?” Lowry writes. “Are broadcasters determined to do their best impressions of the newspaper industry, whistling past graveyards and ignoring all the signs pointing toward the impending apocalypse — including DVR penetration, cable cord-cutting, and the younger demographic consuming programming when and how it wants — until it’s too late? Or is it as simple as corner-office myopia, with execs knowing the train’s coming but hoping the collision won’t happen while they’re still in the driver’s seat?
Lowry quotes Leslie Moonves, the CEO of CBS reassuring the crowd “that for all the conspicuous changes the business is undergoing in terms of new programming platforms, ‘We are the center of the universe. This is where the shows start.’ “
That sounds terrifically myopic—even for a guy who runs a business whose emblem is one, great big eye.
But it’s not necessarily so wrong. Around the world –the world being the United States and Europe in this instance, the big television players are buying the small online entrepreneurs. The Financial Times reports that RTL, the big European network, has just bought a 51% stake in the big Euro-flavored online TV brand, Broadband TV. Time Warner has a big stake in Maker Studios, a big network operator on YouTube. Comcast Ventures bought into Fullscreen, a major YouTube network partner with over 10,000 channels. Somewhere, I read where Time Warner’s Jeff Bewkes mused that online is becoming a lot more like TV rather than TV is becoming like online. TVEverywhere might eventually mean TV-Like-Content- Everywhere. Not the same thing