The Sign of the [TV and Movie] Times

Posted: January 20, 2010 in Business & Economics, Dispatches from the Edge: Editorials
Tags: , , , ,

The Changing Landscape of TV and Other Old-School Media

On Tuesday’s (Jan. 19) edition of The Nightly Business Report, Harry Lin of had an interesting commentary called “The Evolution of TV.” His opening remark was an observation that younger generations of TV viewers were more likely to watch their favorite programs over the internet, or pre- recorded on a DVR or TiVo set.  He was half-right, since more people in my age group (Generation X, and even Baby Boomers) are also following suit.

The point was that the old business model that broadcast TV companies followed religiously for nearly a century, has been effectively pushed into obsolescence by the advent of the internet and online entertainment. There has been a steady decline in live-action advertising since there is hardly anyone patient enough to sit through them.  As a result, broadcasters have seen their revenues all but evaporate completely.  In the not-so-distant future, producing even a new sitcom may become a losing proposition if there won’t be enough of a budget, since former sponsors will be watching every penny they spend on advertising. In fact, it’s happening now. Portable entertainment is going the way of cable, as it has been for a while.  The last vestiges of free TV are disappearing.

But Lin also noted that in general, the TV industry is following the same fate that befell the music industry. No amount of lawsuits or legislation will ever repair that damage or restore it to its previous grandeur.  There will be fewer and fewer TV stars emerging, just as there have been less rock stars sprout- ing.  What he didn’t say, but that we already know full well, is that print media was the first to fall victim to the revolutionizing effect of paperless reading on this wonderful thing called the Internet. As a result, newspapers, book publishers and now bookstores have been forced to look inward, in a manner of speaking.  Even copyrights don’t hold much power anymore; anyone could copy and disseminate your work, and it could spread like wildfire. If you were a struggling writer, would you prefer fame or opt for whatever cold, hard cash you can grab?

I see the same thing happening to movies – albeit very slowly.  Everyone in the film industry – from the biggest producer to the actors, and the crews that work with them – all ultimately make their living from the promise of large throngs of moviegoers seeing a large-screen flick when released.  The flops are still lucky enough to get revenue out of DVD’s and Blue-ray rentals and sales.  But the inevitable “What if” scenario has reared its ugly head: “What if” fewer and fewer moviegoers go out to see movies anymore? Large, flat-screen HD TV’s are becoming more and more popular, and more af- fordable to boot. Prices start at about $700, but with the increase in demand, prices will only be driven lower. The picture quality isn’t too bad either.  So instead of going out to see the movies, you could rent about 100 movies (via aforementioned DVD or Blue-ray media, or Netflix) over the space of a year, and get more than your money’s worth. If you invite some friends over, they could help pay for the movies and the meals. Score!

People will still see movies, just as they will still watch TV or listen to music or read books. However, the dynamics and profitability will change.  There will be less frequency and urgency to go see movies. The trend actually started when VCR & Betamax gave box-office flops a new lease on life –    and also created a downward trend in movie attendance. The latest trends     as mentioned above, coupled with the ease and accessibility of online video platforms (such as YouTube) for viral marketing campaigns, as well as newer and less expensive methods and technology for filming low-budget movies, will make a gross mockery out of expensive, big-budget movie productions, thus diluting the argument for costly ticket sales and adver- tising and driving down costs even more.

The writing is on the wall, so to speak.  What does that mean for the majo- rity of us who simply like to watch? Nothing except a new thing to marvel and laugh at. No laughing matter is how the face of our culture is rapidly changing. There are fewer “stars” that stand out from the rest of the crowd. Instead, a massive, confusing cacophony of delights that can be seen, heard, and read, are now literally at our fingertips. We are getting more choices that shape how we perceive the world. No single entity, public or private will have a monopoly on viewers’ opinions and choices. And that’s a good thing.

Copyright Anabasius 2010

Nightly Business Report Commentary – The Evolution of TV

TV Viewing Dropped this Fall: Is the Web Finally Cutting into Tube Time?


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