Latest developments and thoughts regarding the commercial TV panic of 2009

Posted by Mitchell - September 5, 2009 (entry 629)

Problems with the corporate newspaper industry have gotten all the headlines (pun intended), but problems with commercial broadcast television in the United States might be in even worse shape. It appears that the corporate commercial TV industry, if we're to believe the corporate media business press, is in full-blown panic. Consider these recent developments:

1. Organizational and financial predicament. We've previously commented on the CMA website of the collapse of advertising in commercial television in the past year, thus leading industry financiers to think heretofore unthinkable thoughts, like abandoning broadcasting altogether. The financial situation, at least in the short term, seems to be getting worse: the notorious Sinclair Broadcasting Group appears to be on the verge of bankruptcy, one media advisory group is predicting a 15% drop in TV station revenues, and the depression recession is drying up international TV markets. What's more, the National Association of Bastards Broadcasters and the Television Bureau of Advertising don't have any leaders.

2. Other industries are writing commercial TV's obituary. Steve Ballmer, the CEO of Microsoft, has declared the death knell not just for commercial television but for all of "traditional media". The Hollywood insider blog The Wrap has deemed television as we know it "finished" and is quoting one authority who expects the demise of one or two networks in the next five years.

3. Industry statements of full blown panic. The corporate media has a rich history of talking through both sides of their collective mouth. And you can find statements regarding, like NBC's Jeff Zucker declaring that TV advertising has "bottomed out", plus income tends to be lower in odd numbered years (without an influx of electoral ads or Olympics coverage). That said, nevertheless, in recent months, the commercial TV industry's own business press pronouncements make you think that the sky is falling.

And what should be done? Why, the same elixir that's been demanded for years -- more pro-corporate regulations to allow for greater media concentration. Groan.

Now, it could be pointed out that this is chicken-little alarmism from the corporate media. After all, if they think that broadcasters really are in dire straits, why don't they just dump all their broadcast licenses? Plus, it's not like you can't make money from broadcast advertising, it's just that the amount of money has gone down. From an investor's point of view, even a slight turndown could smell like the beginning of the end, and might deter investor confidence. But there is a sense of panic and a loss of confidence in the commercial broadcasting that wasn't there even just a year ago. This could lead to opportunities for community activists to exploit, so we should keep our toes on developments in this, and devise our own popular policies to be ready to push.

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