Mass media was so Twentieth Century. When people watched three broadcast networks, read a few national newspapers, listened to a few massively popular styles of music and Top 40 artists. From the 1930′s onward, America had a very broad media that shaped intimately people’s desires and feelings and viewpoints. That changed, starting in New York City in the 1970′s with the advent of Cable TV (itself a response to poor broadcast reception in apartments and buildings in heavily urban NYC), and continued apace in the 1980′s with launch in Fox Broadcasting in 1986, and the launch in 1994 of UPN, and 1995 of WB (since combined to form CW). Cable and Satellite TV grew and grew in the 1990′s and 2000′s.
But the dirty little secret of Television is that ratings don’t really matter anymore. I was puzzled with survival of Veronica Mars and Gossip Girl on UPN/CW and the CW respectively, with the renewal of Veronica Mars for its final season being the lowest rated renewal at that point in history, around a million or so viewers, and less than half a million often tuning in for the final two seasons of Gossip Girl’s first-run (not repeat) episodes. The secret? Carriage fees rather than ratings are the key to profits for cable and broadcast networks. But the continuing high cost of cable and satellite could revive the old concept of a mass-media broadcast network. Which has the advantage of being better priced at a time when Dollar Stores are getting too expensive for Americans.
First, the numbers. ESPN takes in around $8 billion a year, of which $2 billion or so is advertising related. That’s right, about 75% of ESPN’s revenues are related to carriage fees, only about 25% for advertising. For CBS, Les Moonves expects a fifty percent split between advertising and carriage fees. Hence the fights between CBS and Time-Warner cable, over what CBS will be paid for each subscriber. This compares to just a few years ago of a more traditional 70-30 split, with advertising being the 70% figure.
The LA Dodgers sports network, the Lakers, and other teams are just part of that action (add in the Pac-12, and other college sports alliances). Money is made not from advertising but by requiring cable and satellite companies to pay up big bucks for carrying the content.
This is why cable or satellite bills can easily breach the $100 a month figure, or easily more than $1,200 a year just to watch television.
And therein lies a problem, and an opportunity.
Consumers are already cutting the cord, so to speak. According to the New York Beta Times, 90% of households pay for TV, but about 4.7 million subscribers will have cut the cord in 2013; about the same percentage of subscribers. And this should trouble both networks and cable/satellite providers. The reasons for cord-cutting are simple: Your Scary Ass Chart of the Day. Real, U6 Unemployment (adding those no longer looking for work) is around 12% or so. Not even welfare pays for cable.
A ninety percentage penetration rate means there is not going to be any growth in subscribing. Indeed the only way forward is down. Fewer subscribers, fewer viewers. And a yearly cost of $1,200 or more makes cutting cable or satellite attractive. Even for those with jobs, downward pressure on wages and upward pressure on necessities (courtesy of QE forever, thanks Mr. Fed!) will inexorably cause people to dump cable. Subscribers can only shrink, not grow. And as they shrink a vicious circle will cause greater price rises for those remaining to cover increased costs of content. Just like ObamaCare.
Digital TV means a lot more channels on free-to-air, and internet streaming and (highly illegal but commonplace torrent downloading) offer a lot of alternatives. For now, streaming via low-cost boxes like the Roku, are dependent on good internet service and incur costs related to higher bandwith usage. I am sure a lot of users download torrents off their corporate accounts to watch various illegal downloads of say, “Mad Men” or “Game of Thrones” without paying bandwidth fees. South Park’s creators already offer ad-sponsored streams of their entire output, new episodes available within days. [ABC has now pulled new episodes until two weeks after airing.] But it is possible to see episodes of “Pawn Stars” and “Grimm” and the general run of broadcast and cable television without paying for a monthly cable or satellite subscription. It is more tedious, time consuming, and nasty do so but it can be done. And at $100 a month or more, it likely will be done.
And that is where digital TV comes in. Instead of each network affiliate or independent station having only a single broadcast frequency, it now has about three or even four. Coverage up to 30 or 40 miles is good, and with more expensive antennas consumers can even reach signals up to 60 miles away. Unlike analog which degrades gracefully, digital is either excellent, or garbage, the signal when too weak giving pixilation and freezing. However, signal boosters and better antennas (a legacy of WiFi research) means even a weaker signal can be boosted and not bleed over like the analog signals of old.
Which allows a savy business the opportunity to offer a competing product at a lower price. The PTEN Network was undone by time limits on existing Fox affiliates, often being forced into late-night broadcasts, competition from cable/satellite, and the withdrawal of Chris-Craft stations into UPN.
A few signature shows, such as Netflix’s “House of Cards,” “Orange is the New Black,” and “Alpha House” which air exclusively on their internet streaming service, would be all it takes to launch such a show. Already, Cosi TV, This TV, Ion Network, ME TV, Antenna TV, and more offer cheap, long-ago content on national broadcast networks, said content ranging from the 1950′s (the Rifleman and Highway Patrol) to a few years ago (Law and Order: Criminal Intent and Cold Case).
The switch to Digital TV made analog TVs into doorstops (unless paired with a digital TV converter box) but has its advantages: mainly a lot more signals that can be broadcast by each station. Instead of one, again there are three or even four. And with said converter box, most stations come in acceptably in suburban areas, even with a cheap pair of rabbit ears. Much better with the old analog rooftop antennas.
In the LA area, some stations have even four subchannels. Much of the content is Spanish, Korean, Chinese, Iranian, and other stuff of little interest to national broadcasters (given the small size outside LA of all but the Spanish language market, and dominance of the latter by Univision and Telemundo).
The opportunity here is to create a national, new-content (which cannot be streamed or found anywhere else) broadcast network. One offering perhaps to start only three days a week (Sunday through Tuesday) broadcasts and taking advantage of all that signal space and dead air to fill. With the cost to consumers of … nothing. No cable fees. No bandwidth fees. “Free to Air” or the traditional model of Over-The-Air Television that started with the first broadcasts in the US in the 1920′s. Perhaps even offering niche sports which can be broadcast cheap: Rugby, international hockey, tennis, etc.
Yes, think of that. No fees, and no costs other than the TV and converter. [Some converters even have a PVR function with a USB hard drive attached, very convenient.] More resiliency during storms and bad weather (the bane of satellite and cable both).
And critically, such a network would require mass to eventually make money. Not carriage fees.
The current model of TV rests on the assumption that the US consumer will pay and pay and pay ever higher fees to maintain revenue growth, or even just revenue stability, as higher costs from content providers get passed on. And it rests on the assumption that no challenger will arise to produce alternative content delivered for free.
Much of what is wrong with today’s television, its Politically Correct jihads, its female-gay domination, its anti-mainstream, “diverse” content, is because TV relies on businesses not consumers for money. CBS, NBC, ESPN, TBS, CNN, etc. have as their customer not the viewer, they care but not overly much if people watch, but the satellite and cable providers.
This is why television sucks so much. People don’t tune in for a PC lecture? No problem, Time-Warner and Dish and DirecTV will still pay up. Just to get the content as a package. Even ala-carte pricing, paying just for what you want, would not fix that problem. True, it would deep six channels such as Oprah’s (OWN), and likely leave only one surviver among WE, Lifetime, Hallmark, and Oxygen. It would probably also kill MSNBC. But it would still leave TBS, TNT, USA, etc. around not to mention NBC and CBS, with the binding effect of PC in place. Because there would be no penalty and payoff for being a mass media.
Walter Cronkite, being a flaming liberal, would have been happy to push gay marriage, trans-gender “rights” and the whole of anti-White, anti-majority, anti-national agenda of the elite class we have and have had since the 1950′s at least (and probably back to the 1920′s). What restrained Cronkite from turning CBS into a podium for all-gay, all the time, and all that goes along with that (like “White guys are the source of all evil”) was money. Money sure to be lost as viewers deserted en-masse and sponsors dumped CBS for alternatives like NBC or ABC. Since the cost of switching was as close as the TV dial.
What America needs is a revival of culture. Of mass culture, which reflects for better and worse, the biases and desires and nobility and failings of the White middle class majority. Not fabulously outrageous personalities from New York and LA, or various racial tribunes, or men and women whose entire existence is based on shocking Daddy.
In my view, this can only come from a revival of the mass media model. Where money is made (or lost) based not on subscriber carriage fees but viewers watching. With the more watching, the more money. And vice-versa. A return to mass won’t fix America overnight. But it won’t make it worse. And it would kill off shows like “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” and “Tyler Perrys’ The Haves and Have Nots.” And that would be a good thing.