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Jewish World Review
Newspapers will survive, but network TV?
The nightly news just ran a story about the financial crisis that newspapers are going through and how they are jumping through hoops to figure out a way to beat or join the Internet. After this feature, they went to a commercial break. The commercial was for ShamWow, the self-proclaimed absorbent cloth you have lived without for many, many years. It's an advertisement you wouldn't have seen during the network news a few years back.
Not that long ago, like all "special TV offer only, call now, but that's not all" commercials, it would have run at 4:30 in the morning between a rerun of a Gene Autry oater and "The Return of the Return of the Living Dead." Now it's running in the middle of the nightly news.
And network television thinks newspapers are in trouble? They'd better start looking over their shoulder. On shows during which the only companies that could afford to advertise made automobiles, mass-produced fast food, or beer, now you see commercials for cloak-like blankets with armholes, and pitches for Head On. Networks won't be able to hire any more 5-million-dollar-a-year anchors on that kind of scratch. The death spiral begins.
One primetime show is bragging that they had 6 million plus viewers last week. Twenty years ago, having that miniscule of an audience would have gotten them kicked off the air, and the executive who OK'd the show would have been tarred, feathered and displayed in the town square for children to laugh at.
You will never see another "Cheers," "Seinfeld," "Cosby Show" or "Friends" on network TV again. They are too expensive. After a year or two of a hit show, the once unknown stars want more money, and the advertisers want to pay less. The last season of "Cheers" Ted Danson was getting $450,000 an episode. The six stars of "Friends" were getting $1 million an episode by the end of their run, while the grand prize after an entire season of "The Amazing Race" and "Survivor" was exactly the same. (We should all work in a business where the words "only" and "1 million dollars" go together. Like politics.)
That's why reality shows are on network TV to begin with -- they are the ShamWows of entertainment. Reality shows, game shows and talk shows are so much cheaper to produce than programs that require scriptwriters and performers, that you don't need huge numbers of viewers to make them profitable. It may work in the short term, but who is going to watch a repeat of "Survivor" five, 10, 20 years from now? Or "Dancing With the Stars" or "The Bachelor"? There is no pay-off, and network television's decline continues. Less money coming in, cheaper shows, fewer viewers and on it goes. So what is network TV's answer to this inevitable decline? Better shows? No more office Christmas parties?
This weekend I watched a movie from Netflix instantly, as it streamed onto my desktop computer. No DVD, no mail, no commercials. I could pause it, do something else and come back to it at my convenience. For less than nine dollars a month, I can watch as many movies as I have time for. Imagine what they'll be offering to download two years from now, five years from now? That's how fast TV will change.
It wasn't that long ago that video rental places charged a stiff membership fee before they would rent you a VHS tape for three bucks a day. What happened to that business model?
Newspapers will adapt, they'll slowly figure out that they're sitting on a goldmine of back issues and photographs that they can sell on the Net over and over again until the end of time, they'll see that they can easily self-generate columns like "A Hundred Years Ago Today," "Today in the Blogosphere" and "Celebrity E-mails." The opportunities are here and now. Any business that is waiting for the future won't have one.
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Jim Mullen is the author of "It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life" and "Baby's First Tattoo."
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