Commentary

TV Networks Wish It Were '1989' Again

Millennials -- or any music fans, for that matter -- don’t buy many albums these days. Rather, they like streaming, picking out stuff on a song-by-song basis. Musicians hate this trend, but new streaming music services love it.

And then Taylor Swift’s “1989” comes along, bucking a lot of trends. It is projected to sell over 1.3 million album units, a near record for a female artist.

But just after the release, Swift also decided to pull her entire catalog off digital music streaming site Spotify. Swift wants her music fans to buy albums, as does other musicians.

Here’s why: Artists don’t make much money from streaming deals. At the same time, total album sales continue to sink rapidly -- down 7% in 2013; and in the first half of 2014, off 14%, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Increasingly the TV industry looks at this supply and demand situation in somewhat the same way.  TV viewers also want to pick and choose. And in these interesting media times, recently CBS, HBO, and Starz were looking at stand-alone of Internet TV services.

Others may call it “a la carte” delivery of TV programming – and of course music fans have been working in an “a la carte” mode for some time.

Unlike music, of course, this isn’t an either or-scenario for TV programmers. TV continues to offer up many content delivery options. One benefit of this fragmentation: multiple platforms can stir attention/promotion for all entertainment content. Similarly, artists less popular than Taylor Swift can’t pull their catalog off digital streaming services for fear of losing visibility and marketing spin.

TV networks would love to put all their marketing spin into what Swift did for her new album: an appearance on NBC’s “The Voice”; a mini-concert on ABC’s “Good Morning America; and special guest DJ-ing on Ryan Seacrest’s radio show.

It’s supply and demand. Swift limits the supply, and demand is great. TV networks would love to work their programming distribution the same way -- especially if TV viewers and/or advertisers would pay more for it.

Will TV programmers continue to seek that kind of business model? Do they need to?

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