TV Is Acting Like Radio

I like Jay Leno.

But Jay Leno stripped at 10 pm is bombing.

Local NBC affiliates are taking the hit with Leno as their late news lead-in and when you lose audience at bedtime, the TV station is not on your channel for the lucrative morning news and fluff shows that permeate television.

Television is acting like radio.

In the past 13 years of consolidation the good and solid programs, formats and personalities that audiences and advertisers loved have given way to Repeater Radio, networked shows to save money and God-awful voice tracking that may sound live but isn’t very local at all.

Network TV cut back on expensive dramas a few seasons back giving more life to reality TV shows most of which are mindless wastes of time.

But they are cheap.

See the radio-TV strategy here – cut expenses and diminish the quality of entertainment and everything will be fine.

Well, it isn’t.

You see the mess the radio industry is in – a new plan every six months to cut costs and further water down local programming and television going with cheapie shows to make their bottom lines look not as bad.

Not as bad is not necessarily good.

Growth companies invest in their products and services. As I have said many times Apple isn’t sailing through this recession for no reason at all. (Apple stock was up almost $8 a share yesterday and yes, I own it).

Apple spends money on staff, hiring, research, development, marketing – can radio and TV say the same?

Of course not.

To make things worse Oprah is planning to leave syndicated TV – another bad omen for dying early local news shows that benefited from her lead-in to their newscasts.

Television doesn’t have another Oprah in the minor leagues waiting for a break unless reality TV's Kate Gosselin or Rachel Ray are the new Oprah's. I doubt it.

Oprah Winfrey gets it.

She is leaving network TV to concentrate on her cable channel. Cable, therefore, has finally become a more potent adversary to broadcast TV than originally thought. The niche programming attracts fans that generalized and watered down network TV is losing. Plus cable channels – some of them anyway – are at least trying to understand the Internet and mobile content as it pertains to their niche.

Is cable big enough for Oprah?

Of course not. Oprah is everywhere her fans want her (re-read this line please).

Magazines. Satellite radio. Mobile content.

And this presents a very interesting teaching point.

While the radio industry is ridding itself of talent and turning its back on local broadcasting (at least the consolidators are), they are looking like the playbook for other losing businesses such as television.

Let’s see ...

Ryan Seacrest on as many Clear Channel stations as possible – a star in LA saving Clear Channel money in 100 different places.

And ...

Jay Leno – a star at 11:30 nightly – as a cheap production version of a 10 o’clock weeknight series.

I’m not sure even Oprah could work out at 10 pm for NBC but I am sure that she is not foolish enough to try.

Oprah is a brand – a very special brand to women. She goes where her fans are. It’s the old Disney success formula.

Marketing. Marketing. Marketing.

Oprah is so powerful she is a cable channel.

She is a magazine all by herself.

She is daily talk show.

So the radio industry and TV business obsessed with cutting costs need more people like Oprah Winfrey making their decisions. You can’t sell what people don’t want. You may like Jay Leno at 11:30 each night but not at 10. NBC would never have put Leno on at 10 had it not been for the financial hot water NBC Universal is now in.

That leads us to the majority interest sale of NBC to Comcast.

Comcast is – a cable company.

It sees the acquisition of NBC as adding content to its cable sports franchises. They are not trying to buy NBC for the Leno show. They want the sports franchises. And in spite of saying all the right things about carrying terrestrial TV on cable, Comcast didn't buy NBC Universal for the network division.

Network TV in the not too distant will be like, well -- radio.

By extension the music industry is making some of the same mistakes.

Long lost in finding ways to save the CD revenue it is losing to piracy and cherry picking 99 cent tunes from previously overpriced albums, the labels have lost their way.

Instead of developing talent and feeding the insatiable appetite of music lovers for discovery, you’ll note that there hasn’t been a new major music trend since the industry began its decline in 2000.

After rap and hip-hop the labels stalled out. Prior to that the new technology of the CD stemmed a windfall of profit to the labels as consumers had to once again buy their favorite vinyl albums so they could enjoy digital sound. (Or is enjoy digital sound even a good way to put it given the better fidelity of vinyl – but I digress).

The marketplace wants singers, bands, stars – the labels give us lawyers suing the pants off of people to save declining CD revenue.

It’s as clear as mud to the labels and for that matter the networks or radio consolidators.

It’s not good to save money at the expense of the product.

When you cut, it hurts.

When you grow, you gain.

Video never killed the radio star – that concept is all too simple and incorrect.

Video killed video.

Radio killed radio.

The labels killed the music industry.

And they all did it the same way.

By emphasizing the wrong word in the term -- show business.

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