Editorial: TV Industry Can Count Its Blessings

Nov 24, 2003  •  Post A Comment

With the attention of television professionals so often focused on addressing an endless stream of challenges, problems and changes, it’s easy to forget that television remains a very good business and an integral part of American society. As Thanksgiving approaches, it is a good time to count our blessings.
Yes, the economics of the industry are increasingly troubling, as programming and marketing costs rise, technology constantly evolves and some advertisers remain on the sidelines awaiting a general recovery. Viewer tastes and demographics keep shifting, as was most recently demonstrated in reports about ratings and viewership by young males. And there are the consequences to face of the continuing migration to cable TV, the switchover to high definition and the future impact of video-on-demand. Consolidation and questions about ownership limits continue to create uncertainty about the future of the industry, and television is all too often a target of criticism, creating regulatory threats on Capitol Hill.
But it is precisely because television remains a vital partner in American society that it finds itself in the glare of the spotlight. That viewers, lawmakers, regulators and activist groups take such an intense interest in television and make demands of the industry is a sign of its strength. If they ever stop caring, it may be time to consider a career change. But that does not appear likely to happen any time soon.
With the networks coming off a record upfront, the advertising picture isn’t as dreary as some might suggest. Sluggishness in the fourth-quarter scatter market is a natural byproduct of a strong upfront, along with the usual make-goods for underperforming programs.
Even with these issues, many in broadcast and cable have things to cheer about. As the November sweeps play out, CBS appears to be breaking NBC’s stranglehold on the 18 to 49 demographic. NBC and General Electric, meanwhile, have their Universal deal to build optimism, as they join the ranks of world-class media conglomerates that operate across a broad range of media and distribution platforms.
ABC, which has had a difficult few years, is showing signs of life again, particularly with the success of its resurgent TGIF lineup on Friday nights. And Fox continues to compete effectively with the more established broadcast nets, with sports as well as its thriving “American Idol” franchise and hits such as “24” and “The O.C.”
It has been an extraordinary year for cable. With consolidation, a handful of large MSOs have emerged with considerable clout. It has also been a year in which numerous cable outlets upgraded their content, produced more original programming and embarked on new marketing initiatives. While the inroads made by cable and satellite cut into the broadcast audience, the competition helps keep the entire medium vital and connected to its viewers.
We also have a lot to be thankful for at TelevisionWeek. Since our relaunch in March we have seen great acceptance from the entire community, which has responded enthusiastically to the changes and the expansion of our mandate to be the community newspaper for all of television.