Dying Newspapers Now; Dying TV Stations Next?

Just about everybody concedes that one of the ways newspapers went bad was by offering up their content online for free and not making it much different from what was in the print product. Maybe that puts it a little incorrectly—newspapers didn’t find new ways to use their print products in new ways.

Hence, in big cities particularly, newspapers are weak and irrelevant enough that it’s assumed most of them will just limp along until one day the owners don’t print them at all. Newspapers squandered an opportunity—all those years of fat profits—without coming up with a viable second act.  

How is that different from what is happening with television? Network television shows are easily found online, on Hulu or Hulu Plus or Netflix or from, say, Comcast’s video on demand service. You can watch them either with no commercials, or limited commercials. You can find clips all over the place—there’s really not that much of a need to watch the “Today” show.  Missing scheduled programs means you are a little late—emphasis on the little.



But except for the thin advantage of being able to knowingly discuss what happened on “The Good Wife” or “Mad Men” at work on Monday morning, avoiding “live” TV has never been easier or more painless.

 “There will still be some linear real time viewing of TV for the Super Bowl or breaking news events ... but entertainment-based video will move to more on-demand,” Forrester Research analyst Jim Nail predicted to the news agency AFP recently. “If you own a TV station, you are in the same position as a newspaper. There will be other ways to watch content and you're going to be very challenged.” But he pointed out, “If you are the content owner, you should not worry at all.”

The thing is, while the big networks own stations in the largest market—and make hundreds of millions of dollars from them—out there in less glam towns, stations are owned by other giant companies like Gannett or Sinclair or Hearst, that have affiliate deals with networks. But when repeat episodes of network shows go to Internet packagers—like Hulu, which is owned by three of the four English language broadcast networks—those stations don’t share in the revenue those replays command. But the networks and the studios that they own, cash in there.        

“Streaming continues to be a terrific growth driver for us,” CBS chief Leslie Moonves says in the AFP article that appears at the same time as do a spate of stories confirming that this way or that, the once fringe practice of cord-cutting is now a full-fledged reality not just with young adults but across a wider spectrum. Online video’s attractions are full enough that scheduled, commercial-laden prime time shows just aren’t competitive.

The fall season premieres, once a big deal, will now arrive with a relative whisper, and it’s not just because “network TV” is outmoded in its story-telling style (though that’s kind of true), but because it is not in any way unique. There is no urgency. It is not a hard to find commodity. We are not far removed from the days NBC heralded its “must-see Thursday” line-up, but today, Thursday via DVR can be next week, or via Hulu, next month or next year.

Why should I care to lament broadcasting’s problems? Well, I don’t, but it seems that at the rate programming, new and slightly used, is going to online, there’s going to be a gaping hole where local ad sales once used to be.  In the new, fast world of the Internet, that hole might get very big in a very short period of time.         

8 comments about "Dying Newspapers Now; Dying TV Stations Next? ".
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  1. Mark Robbins from Radar Entertainment, August 17, 2013 at 12:59 p.m.

    While your article was very well written, it appears that Hearst - 29 TV Stations, Sinclair - 149 TV Stations (approximately), Gannett - 23 TV Stations and myself do not agree. We still live in a society of "first to see and talk about a show" just like we live in a society of "first to have the new IPhone or whatever is new in technology, etc. etc. etc. [of anything.] Sorry - the demise of the TV station entrepreneurs is far from a dying breed or their entities.

  2. Taylor Wray from Kantar Retail, August 19, 2013 at 9:37 a.m.

    If the history of media technology is any guide, a new medium has a relatively short time to exist before it is colonized by advertisers. Look at radio, TV, print (mags and newspapers). All of them started carrying (and being carried by) advertising by the time they hit the mainstream. I think it will grow increasingly difficult for the likes of Hulu and Netflix to continue to ignore the potential profits to be made by showing ads to their increasingly large audiences. Perhaps they'll start by offering cheaper subscriptions to viewers who opt into watching a certain number of ads per show/week

  3. Peter Benjamin from MyOffices, August 19, 2013 at 4:43 p.m.

    The future of digital newspapers are very hopeful once the old geezers at these papers move out of the way and make room for the new digital youth who understand that the savings they incur on the printing costs. If you distribute the news faster and better your users will be willing to pay for the services through their ad engagement. In the MyOffices® APP there is a section for Newspapers.

  4. Al DiGuido from Optimus Publishing, August 20, 2013 at 10:51 a.m.

    Local News & Television will experience the same decline if these broadcasters don't see their viewer as an individual who has embraced mobile interactive platforms as their primary screen. The content intersection between viewer and that content will increasingly become the smart phone & tablet device. All research points to this dynamic shift in media consumption patterns. Broadcasters have to created dynamic & relevant content packages that are "pushed" to an audience on a regular basis. Why can't I open up my tablet and have the morning news from the ABC Affiliate delivered to my inbox..? Why aren't breaking news alerts being delivered via video emails to me during the course of the day. TV Stations need to up the level and concentration of their interactive strategy to use email as a way for folks to "tune in" to digital content of all sorts " Why isn't their a digital equivalent of TV's available on "Digital Channels" The current model of the TV broadcaster needs to reflect the new profile of viewers...If these folks don't shift their ideas and thinking quickly...they are apt to be in the same place as their newspaper brethren.

  5. Robert Abston from NewStand Media Online, August 31, 2013 at 4:55 p.m.

    This is a very well written and thought out piece that you have provided for our thoughtful contemplation, @pj.

    Here are my thoughts on the future of TV.

    New technologies will not destroy the television industry. To be sure, the industry's failure to adopt these new technologies will undermine the industry's market dominance. Offering content online for free will not destroy the television industry. Free online content will actually drive viewers to their traditional TV offerings.

    Only one thing will destroy television. That single factor driving the success or failure of this industry is the motivation of the owners of these media assets. Until the executives in this industry recognize that Americans want to see and hear from people they can trust, they risk losing the moral authority to claim the mantle of information providers. As Americans recognize the need to inform themselves in order to better choose leadership for those institutions that determine not only their future, but the future of their children and their children's children, they reject those institutions that attempt to impose an agenda that runs contrary to their best interests.

    [Three paragraphs removed in order to comply with length requirements can be found here.]

    On the other hand, television can regain its leadership role in the media industry if industry owners recognize that their media assets can be tools that can be used to benefit the broader interests of the middle class rather than simply tools of their wealthy owners to extract the largest revenue stream possible from their viewers while simultaneously misleading them to act against their own best interests. When the motivation changes from personal enrichment of the few at the expense of everyone else to a recognition that our individual self-interest is best served when our whole community is thriving, all of the other ills that have befallen the television industry will begin to mend themselves. It is impossible to put a Bandaid on the cancer that permeates the television industry and expect it to return to healthy growth. Television is a powerful tool in the right hands and rusty old saw good only to hang on the wall as a reminder of the good old days in the current industry owners hands.

    Robert Abston
    NewStand Media

  6. Robert Abston from NewStand Media Online, August 31, 2013 at 5:30 p.m.

    For the full text of the previous comment see:

  7. KEN kisselman from potentialKEN, September 2, 2013 at 7:11 p.m.

    I think that the key to charting the future evolution of TV Stations and Newspapers is found in untangling the ways that the ‘content’, ‘contextualizing’, and ‘distribution’ aspects of their business models have become convoluted.

    More so than ‘reporting the news’; newspapers are in the de facto business of ‘distributing the news’. The primary business model of a newspaper is using its press and distribution mechanism to fix content to sheets of dead tree and then truck those print outs around to subscribers and newsstands so that circulation numbers can be leveraged to advertisers as a metric of potential reach. Content (both proprietary and purchased) is the carrot for consumer purchase but the core of what the traditional newspaper business model is selling is actually ‘content distribution’ and it is precisely that distribution mechanism which is threatened by the disintermediation of the internet. Previously readers would have to look at local advertisements in order to access AP content that publishers downloaded from a satellite, printed, and circulated to their neighborhood; now they can just click a direct link to an AP story online effectively reducing publishing magnates to irrelevant middlemen.

    Networks are jeopardized by distribution mechanisms like Hulu etc. because a network draws its identity from contextualizing individual shows as its proprietary programming lineup and online distribution platforms create their own branded super-context for shows from a variety of networks. Online syndication undermines network primacy by enabling the user to create their own programing blocks at a single web destination in a way that could previously only be emulated by using a remote control to ‘switch channels’. TV Stations (ie. local affiliates) make their money by expanding the geographic reach of the network parent and by selling local advertising insertions into the content that they are (re) distributing. What they have which is unique and own-able is their local content (primarily the local news). The internet removes the longstanding need of a local broadcast tower to redistribute a signal from a national parent by disintermediating direct access to a show at its source. It’s this collapsing of virtual geography not the time shifting of the viewing experience which threatens the traditional station model.

    At the individual TV Station or Newspaper level; I think that the key for the evolution of both of these industries involves shifting their reliance from ‘local distribution’ to producing own-able ‘local content.’ Traveling up the syndication pyramid to the network parent (ex. NBC) or news conglomerate (ex. Gannett); I think that the challenge becomes finding new ways to make their brand as ‘the contextual aggregator of content’ relevant in a marketplace where content is increasingly directly accessed by consumers in smaller incremental units at its source.

  8. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, September 4, 2013 at 7:53 a.m.

    The more this gets analyzed with the more answers you will find or it will be more like a dog chasing its tail. #1. How well do you think your business would do if the people owning and running it did not know how to do it and never did it before ? Go from there.

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