Networks Losing Control Of Content

By Steve Meyer, Inside Music Media™ Contributor

The media is talking a lot these past few weeks about the death of TV as we know it. The Microsoft head guy Bill Gates comes out and echoes the same sentiments and says that in five years the Internet will completely alter the way we watch TV. (Gee, I thought it already had).

Whatever dialogue ensues about this topic from this point on, one thing is certain: the public is surfing through their galaxy of a hundred plus channels as fast as their remote control permits. The loyalty factor for their favorite shows is declining (with the exception of 'American Idol' which defies all traditional analysis at this point).

ABC's 'Desperate Housewives' (which was #1 two years ago) has declined from its 25 million weekly viewers to 17-18 million. 'Lost,' 'Survivor,' and other once guaranteed top-5 ratings champs are all down as well.

Why networks should be surprised at this, is beyond me. If they've been paying attention to what's going on all around them, they should have picked up by now that when you have a hit show, the last thing you should do is stick reruns on during the show's new season -- which is exactly what 'Desperate Housewives' has done this season and last. Forget the reasons why they say they do it (or need to do it), the fact is, the public has no tolerance for it, and they click to another channel to see something new or different.

And unlike in the past (when there weren't so many channels out there), once they do click and latch onto something, there's a decent chance they might lose interest in what they were watching previously. Instead of Attention Deficit Disorder, they get Viewing Deficit Disorder. And the shows they once were glued to, become faded memories faster than you see Larry King's hair turning gray.

This is the way it is now in media and entertainment. Hot today, cool tomorrow, ice cold in a matter of months. Disposability. It's that way now with the majority of music on the radio (which I refer to as "Chinese food for the ears" because it's good going down, but we hunger for something else in little time), most of the the movies being pumped into two to three thousand theaters a week (if you don't think they're disposable, try and name the dozens of films that came and went in a matter of weeks at the box office. Better yet, if you've got pay-for-view on your cable or satellite TV system, how many of them are you actually paying to see?), and yes, it's now that way with television.

YouTube didn't happen by accident. It was the next logical progression in delivering video entertainment on demand to an audience that embraced TiVo technology immediately. Except with YouTube, there's no need to program anything, buy a subscription service, and go through the efforts of hooking it all up. Nope. You push the button, power up your PC, and you're watching whatever you choose to online.

We'll still watch our big screen TVs. But the networks (like the major labels) are losing their grip on controlling the content the majority of the public will watch from this point on. One of the biggest mistakes network TV ever made was assuming for too long the public would actually tolerate summers filled with reruns and bad shows. That did more to drive people to cable and satellite faster than anything. Once there, the audience found out there was another universe of channels to entertain them.

Steve Meyer is one of the music industry's top professionals and publisher of the new media newsletter DISC & DAT.