TelevisionWeek will be commemorating its silver anniversary in its May 21 issue, wherein we’ll also reveal our list of 25 living legends who have left an indelible mark on the TV industry. As a lead-up, for the next five weeks we’ll be highlighting significant moments in the business that we have chronicled over the past 25 years. Today we present an essay that Crain Communications President Rance Crain, our editor-in-chief, wrote in March 2003 when we rebranded ourselves as TelevisionWeek. Up until that time we were known as Electronic Media. — Chuck Ross, Publisher
By Rance Crain
When we started Electronic Media in 1982 as a supplement to Advertising Age, the television world was in a state of transition — but to what and where, nobody knew.
Would television and the computer converge? Would interactive TV enable viewers to play video games and order groceries? And where did this new upstart, subscription TV, fit in?
We didn’t know, of course, whether any of these wonderful things would happen, so in naming our new publication we decided to hedge our bet. No matter which way television would go — closer to the computer, the Internet and interactivity or keeping a cool distance — we were covered.
Even up until the time of the AOL buyout of Time Warner, the convergence dream persisted. What drove that deal was the unshakable idea that the personal computer, television and telephone would become “parallel digital pathways to new types of information and entertainment services,” as AOL’s Steve Case so grandly put it.
Let it happen, EM was ready. But things didn’t turn out that way, and they probably never will. Now people say TiVo will doom commercial television. I doubt that will happen either.
What happened instead of convergence was something a lot more practical. The sale of syndicated television shows to local TV stations boomed throughout the ’90s, as did cable TV. EM became the programming publication covering this explosion. We went from about 250 pages in 1984 to 1,200 the next year. We were the second-fastest-growing business publication at the time.
Much to the surprise (and consternation) of people who had made big bets on television morphing into something else, the medium actually evolved into many and varied forms of the same thing.
Our job, one we at TelevisionWeek enthusiastically accept, is to cover television in all its glorious divergence. Programming, sure, but the creative side, the ad side, the deal side, the news side, all sides. TelevisionWeek was always inside Electronic Media struggling to get out, and today we celebrate its emergence.
Rance Crain is president of Crain Communications and president and editor-in-chief of TelevisionWeek.