Changing Channels

2 06 2011

Allow me to step up onto my soapbox, as I am so wont to do. While I may not be orating like so many impromptu preachers and pundits as at Speaker’s Corner in London’s Hyde Park, I do want to make my voice heard. And my message is simple: Network television needs to join the rest of us in the 21C.

Now let me make myself perfectly clear (in a Nixonian kind of way, of course). I have many friends in local and distant media, and at all levels of station operations. I do not wish to offend them, nor unnecessarily scare them. But as discussed in this article yesterday on MSNBC.com, network television hasn’t the foggiest idea of how to survive in a rapidly changing tech landscape. Business models from the late-20th century just won’t cut it.

And, ironically, it is not because of the local affiliates. Nope. It’s because of top brass wearing blinders, doggedly trying to stick to their guns. In the process, they are driving viewers away, not toward them.

The “problem” is that the Big 3 networks have not embraced the idea of anywhere, anytime viewing. As noted in the article, many top shows have but a slim repository of episodes available for viewing online, and primarily at the network’s website. To NBC’s credit, they do have their Hulu property helping out in this regard, but it still leaves much to be desired.

Back in the 70s, the phenomenon of time-shifting got its beginning. The VCR allowed people to record TV shows for later viewing. By the early-21C, DVRs had perfected our ability to program recordings weeks in advance, and then watch them whenever we wanted to.

But now, thanks to a plethora of mobile devices and alternative viewing platforms (like Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, et al), we have the new phenomenon of place-shifting. Now I can watching what I want, when I want it, and from wherever I happen to be.

It is highly likely that the networks are leaning on their protectionist mindset that has kept satellite TV subscribers from receiving out-of-market network channels (unless you can demonstrate that you cannot receive the over-the-air signal at your home). This effectively protects the local affiliates (and is a federal law). Local affiliates earn the bulk of their revenues from local advertising sales, so the Big 3 are trying to insulate affiliates in places like Amarillo, Abilene, etc., from other markets (like Denver, Dallas, LA or New York).

But now that we have both time- and place-shifting, the point is moot about whether we will ever see those local ads when we watch a show. Worse yet, there are tech snobs like yours truly who won’t put up with such shenanigans. If I cannot watch a show on my terms (meaning time and place), then I just won’t watch it.

I have noticed myself becoming increasingly disengaged from television the last decade, probably because of rapidly changing lifestyles. How quaint the notion of watching live television now seems to me. And to be honest, I don’t use my DVR that much, because I often find myself with time to watch a show when I am far away from it.

Sure, providers like Dish have partnered with Slingbox to bridge between time and place, but it involves extra hardware. I really do not want anything else to complicate matters. As long as I can watch on my iPad, laptop or iPhone at my convenience, then I’m in.

As for our local affiliates, I must be brutally honest in saying that they are having to scurry to repurpose and reinvent themselves. I am good friends with the General Manager at one station locally, and I know from numerous conversations that they now see themselves as being in the communications business. They are successfully making the leap to current technological standards. And I was pleased to tell him recently that I watch his newscast on my iPad via his station’s app. Completely on my terms. And often with my head on a couple of pillows.

But until the networks awaken from their slumber and realize the changes around them, they are putting themselves and their affiliates in peril. God knows we already have enough media stimulation in our lives. But if they choose to skip the party, they shouldn’t be surprised to discover that everyone has simply changed channels.

Dr “Off The Air” Gerlich


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4 06 2011
Poyen Chi

Due to the trend of network TV, I also subscribed hulu plus and Netflix on my mobile divice. Be honost, I quited each of them after two-month usage. I started to try the network TV because of friend’s recommendation. They said network TV is so convenient that they don’t need cable TV anymore. However, I had different thought of that. The reasons I quited are that network TV mostly doesn’t provide the latest TV episode and movie online and there is no commercial adds. I used to watch regular TV program since I was in Taiwan. We never use the system like DVRs. The benefit of network TV is that I can watch TV through mobile device. I’m not a TV guy, but I care about the latest episode that I’m watching. If network TV can provide more exclusive TV show or not just the replay from cable TV schedule, I believe there will be more viewers attracted to subscribe. Furthermore, good and creative commerical adds are also one of features that audience woud like to enjoy and get and new information of certain products. I know people who use network TV would like to avoid adds, but Youtube makes a good demonstration of embedding adds to the video. I like to watch adds on Youtube sometime. So far, the market of network TV is still small, because audience still feel more comfortable to follow the regular schedule. Once, network TV carriers can overcome these two problems. People might switch their watching behavior to Network TV.

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