It an unintended bit of irony, two articles in the Sunday March 1 NY Times herald icons of a bygone media era: the passing of Paul Harvey and separately, the End of Network TV.
Paul Harvey’s iconoclastic style of off beat radio commentaries were water cooler talk at one time. But that was before Starbucks, dot-com-era inspired office coffee makers, cell phones and that whole Internet thing. But Harvey continued to broadcast reaching many devoted followers.
Despite a dwindling audience, he was also pretty cheap content. One guy with one script.
Network television with its big budgets and big egos is different. It needs alot of cash — which translates into ratings and higher-than-justifiable CPMs in this challenging advertising market. I saw it with my own eyes last Spring when a crew came to town to shoot an episode of Lipstick Jungle in Nyack, NY. I think I counted five or six trailers. Sorry, I wasn’t enough of a fan to count the crew or the number of lunch items offered on the catering truck.
This isn’t a conservative-hollywood-latte-sipping-liberal diatribe. (Truth be told: I like Starbucks, too). It’s just that advertisers, given the variety of other advertising vehicles available, don’t have to pay off-the-graph CPMs to reach these audiences anymore.
The ONLY attribute broadcast networks still exclusively own is the biggest reach on any given night. With the exception of movie openings, political campaigns, and jump starting word-of-mouth campaigns, it’s not worth the price. And its impact tiny compared to what it used to be.
What’s surprising about network TV is that it has lasted like this for so long. The rise of prime time game shows and reality TV were early indicators that smaller audiences with cheaper production costs were displacing expensive sitcoms and dramas. Jay staking out a Monday-Friday the 10pm strip was only another nail in the coffin.
Madmen, Nip ‘n tuck, Monk, Iron Chef, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Dog Whisperer are only a few examples of how cable has figured out how to do more for less. There will be many who will bemoan the end of big budget broadcast TV, but not enough to make a difference to bring it back.
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