Oh, How TV Has Changed!

We’ve come a long way, baby.

Back in 1990 David Klein at “Electronic Media” asked me to do a monthly column called “Computer Circuit.” It was to introduce station managers and sales types to this neat computer technology showing up everywhere.

TV was a simpler business then. Everything was geared to the annual NATPE show, where stations bought first-run programs and new shows for syndication.

The world has changed. Independent stations are now network affiliates for Fox, WB or UPN. Many first-run shows are now sold to cable networks like TNT, often airing the day after their network runs.

And the nature of network programming has changed, too, becoming more disposable. Anyone see a big syndication deal in “Joe Millionaire?”

Broadcasting no longer describes TV. It’s cable and satellite. The business model is no longer entirely ad-driven. Ancillary businesses, websites and merchandising, are now part of the mix.

So EM’s replacement by TelevisionWeek is more than a cause for celebration. It’s a good chance to notice just how different TV is in the 21st century than it was.



Spitball this from 30,000 feet, as they used to say, and the amazing truth is that the business is better than it ever was, much better.

TV has faced the Web and, on the whole, beaten it. Lists of top Web sites in every category are dominated by cable affiliates like MSNBC, FoodTV, and ESPN.

Talent is more valuable than ever, and the definition of talent has expanded. It’s not just writers, agents, directors and actors. Computer skills and marketing (as in packaged goods) are in huge demand.

The buying universe has also changed. Many buyers are packaging talent to create shows that have no market. Others represent cable networks, which just need a hook, or a star, and can do the rest themselves.

For decades people in TV complained about how “ratings are all” and if you didn’t get X% in this time slot you were dead. The pressure still exists, but X may be 1/10th X, and success is measured across the day rather than by half-hour.

A few months ago I attended my 25th college reunion at Rice, and the one thing my classmates and I agreed on was that we couldn’t get into the place now.

I feel that way about the new TelevisionWeek, and whether that’s true or not, I feel the same way about that as I do about Rice, proud I got in when I did, and happy about what the old school has become.

Good luck.

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