Is Network TV Dead Yet?


Friday, May 17, 2013

It’s commonly said now that we’re living in a golden age of television, but try telling that to executives at the Big Four networks. The buzzy shows you love to talk about are on cable, while CBS, ABC, NBC, and Fox are all wrapping up one of their worst seasons on record. Many successful shows have lost steam, with no breakout hits to fill the void. The trickle of viewers that has been lost year over year became a sharp drop (nearly 20% of viewers in the 18-to-49 demographic, according to the Wall Street Journal). A media analyst for Bank of America Merrill Lynch was quoted in The New York Times saying “This year was the tipping point.”

“It was a really bad year, there’s no denying that,” says Joe Adalian, the West Coast editor for Vulture, New York Magazine’s culture website. But he tells Kurt Andersen that it is still too early to ring the death knell. “The network’s response to that is, ‘Let’s make a lot more shows.’ They’re taking a lot more chances.”

This week in the upfronts, the networks unveiled ambitious fall lineups; according to Adelian, CBS, which typically launches two or three shows, has launched eight. Some have shorter runs than the typical 22-episode model, taking a page out of cable’s playbook.

“Networks have lost the war for buzz and their stranglehold on pop culture,” he tells Kurt, but when it comes to audience and advertising, “network TV is still the biggest game in town.” He cites FX’s The Americans, about Soviet spies undercover in the US. “It was a great show that launched this year, a lot of strong buzz, and in the overnight ratings it was losing to repeats of Big Bang Theory.”

→ What you think? Is network TV doomed sooner rather than later? Tell us in a comment below.


Joe Adalian

Comments [15]

Tony Filson from New York, NY

As the president of Filcro Media Staffing a media and broadcasting executive search and media management consulting firm and with over 30 years of media recruitment experience for Broadcast, Cable, Online, IPTV, OEM, Mobile and Motion Picture I'm here to say that "Network TV" as we know it is in BIG TROUBLE and if they do not change, they will go the way of the horse and buggy.

On Affiliate, Advertising, RE-Trans and Consumer levels the Broadcast Networks must change their monetization practices to function more so as multi-cast, multi-plex, multi-platform media companies. P&G, Ford, Y&R, Coke and others can no longer support the shotgun vs. rifle Broadcast TV Network Modality.

Without MSO and OD/Online Broadcast the TV Networks are in big trouble and when CBS tries to charge $2.00 per sub when their signal is FREE OTA and granted those air-ways by the FCC, I must say that greed has been their ruin.

CBS has lost the #1 DMA in America. To those not in the broadcasting industry that means that CBS cannot provide their advertisers with the Cable TV Market they sold and must make that up. It's called a "Make-Good" and CBS not being able to sell this market going forward is hurting their bottom line. Their “Game Face” is only good PR to people who are not in the broadcasting industry.

My advice to 51W52nd Street is to hope that Time Warner will even pay a $1.00 per sub anymore. CBS should understand that IAC run by Barry Diller is really moving in the right direction. CBS must create PIPE that competes with the MSO's. This is the ONLY way their content can enjoy greater margins.

Their Affiliate relations, marketing and sales environments must in the future be run by a CRO/CSO type who has the business, technical and creative acumen to look at monetization channels that are forward looking that can leverage ALL of CBS’ businesses. The model and revenue streams now are too myopic.

Looking at new Networks like Zuus Media Inc. CBS could be holding ALL the cards if they just took their current resources and put them towards higher margin media businesses that require none of the CAPEX or OPEX associated with Network TV.

A BIG hello to all the talented people at Studio 360! You're a prime example of quality programming that people make appointments with.

Best regards,

Tony Filson
Filcro Media Staffing

Aug. 23 2013 09:53 AM

An overlooked aspect of the supposed decline of broadcast TV was the switch to digital signaling a few years back. I had a TV with an antenna that I used for broadcast programming, having long since opted to quit paying for TV. But instead of buying a new TV when the switch came, I just put the old set on the curb and started using hulu -- but most of what I watch on hulu is broadcast programming, like The Office, Parks & Rec, Saturday Night Live, and others. The new exception is Maron, an IFC show. I also watch a lot of PBS (Austin City Limits in particular) online, along with Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and the Letterman Show.

I do think that switching to digital signaling did more to hurt broadcast than cable has done to steal its audience. Cable is benefitting from the switch while broadcast is suffering.

Jun. 05 2013 10:29 AM
JT from Traverse City Michigan

Almost every night that I watch TV (I do not pay for TV,so network only), I chose CBS or PBS. It seems the others have reality shows every night-I would never waste my time viewing a reality program---terrible shows. ABC Good Morning America is now more like TMZ. Again I watch CBS in the morning-far better than NBC and ABC has went hollywood.

May. 23 2013 05:14 PM
Sara from Chicago

Hannibal: NBC. Elementary: CBS. New Girl: FOX. Community: NBC. Parks and Rec: NBC. And that's just my DVR list, not a complete summary of all the high-quality television on network TV.

Network puts out a lot of crap, but some of the most stellar programming of the moment is on network as well. Like all channels, it's a mix. It's the golden age of television because excellent TV is on ALL the stations: network, cable, premium. And let's be real here: Just because you can show nude bodies and curse freely doesn't make your TV show good. There's plenty of underdeveloped and stale television on HBO, Showtime and the like that get a pass because they seem "edgy" because they can curse or show nudity; don't make assumptions either way. We're surrounded by excellent TV -- watch it whatever channel it's on.

May. 23 2013 11:09 AM
Emily from New York

I love Nashville. Passionately. I checked it out after I read an interview with its creator in which she talked about her feminist perspective and I have been watching it ever since. The music is fantastic. The writing is fantastic. The directing is fantastic. An episode directed by Eric Stoltz was one of my favorites. (How did he make that kiss so steamy?!) And it's so refreshing to see women at the center of the show who are complicated, powerful and interesting characters. If the Networks can make this sort of thing, I hope they can keep themselves together!

May. 20 2013 08:19 PM
Carrie from Minnesota

Hannibal on NBC is an amazing show. Acting is superior and the filming itself is vivid and outstanding. I am a fan of psychological horror (American Horror story ...cable equivalent). I highly recommend it!
Also The Good Wife on CBS really doesn't get much better than that.
I wish there was more like the two of these. So to answer your question; the good ones are few and far between but they are out there!

May. 19 2013 10:06 PM
Janet Gibbs from Utah

I don't watch much Network TV, but when I do it is definately "modern family" The network I do watch on a regular basis is BBC America (why no one talks about BBC America is a puzzle to me)....I am currently watching Orphan Black, Dr. Who (getting better every year), in the past Luther was great, Being Human (not Syfy). They are promoting new shows and I truly am looking forward to what BBC American does....they are great.

May. 19 2013 03:45 PM

Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, Dexter, Southland, The Daily show and The Colbert Report are my favorites. I dvr all shows and fast forward through each episode. I've grown allergic to the STUPID commercials on network tv and any that may come up on cable. If I dvr a network show, Dateline, 20/20, Leno, Fallon I fast forward past the commercials. Commercials are the WORST!

May. 19 2013 02:20 PM
Joanne Rocchio from New York

Too many commercials have become such a distraction from story line that I become frustrated with TV in general. I don't even watch the news on network anymore. I don't like so called reality TV and I refuse to be taken in by serial programming (aside from Downton Abbey) My salvation is PBS. Although I will always be loyal to Law & Order and Blue Bloods.
Thank you.

May. 19 2013 01:38 PM
S Cruz from Las Vegas NV

House of Cards by far is one of the most exciting, newest thing that has come to light because of the fact that it is a web series, there's no advertising, there might be a little product placement but that's nothing new. It give you a new insight of how politics really functions in a modern society.

May. 18 2013 07:25 PM
Clea Carchia from NJ

Mad Men, Bates Motel, The Following, Fringe was great (now gone), White Color, Criminal Minds. Those are my faves. Network TV quality has deteriorated. The "CW" is horrible. Reality TV is worthless. I also liked Saving Grace, 24 and Medium when they were on. I like a little fantasy thrown in to make it interesting. I often hear people saying things like "that's not believable" or "it's not realistic". TV isn't suppose to be reality. It should be exciting, provocative even. It's entertainment. Also one tip for network TV execs - stop trying to make shows that appeal to the masses. That's when you wind up with watered down, homogenized crap.

May. 18 2013 04:11 PM
Laurie Mann from Pittsburgh, PA

About the only network primetime shows I watch regularly are Big Bang Theory (we're geeks - our living room looks a lot like Sheldon & Leonard's living room), Modern Family, Downtown Abbey and How I Met Your Mother (though, frankly, I'm glad next year is the last year). I watch very little network TV as I despise "reality" programming.

We get HBO for Game of Thrones which is "must see TV" in our house.

We watch a fair amount of BBCAmerica, mostly for Dr. Who. I've gotten into AMC's Mad Men, but, as it's on against Game of Thrones, I always watch it on Monday. I will probably continue to watch Rectify on "On Demand," mostly for the brilliant young English actress Adelaide Clemons (GREAT on BBC/HBO's Parade's End earlier this year).

I don't have much hope for network TV. It seems like most of the interesting shows are on cable.

May. 18 2013 03:20 PM
David P. from DC

I haven't gotten into many new series in the past ten years (I generally watch the lineup on MSNBC now), but I do enjoy Revolution on NBC. I've also stuck with the Sunday night cartoon lineup on Fox for years, of course including The Simpsons and newer classic Family Guy; Bob's Burgers is brilliant and hysterical.

May. 18 2013 02:22 PM
Janet Boys from Philadelphia

Broadcast shows I have enjoyed over the last year to few years are: Scandal (ABC), Big Bang Theory (CBX), So You Think You Can Dance, The Sing-Off, Glee, (Fox) and Smash (ABC). The most innovative show of these is So You Think You Can Dance. Every show has at least one dance (if not a lot more) that does one or more of: creating catches in my throat, making me happy, capturing my imagination, a WOW factor, etc. The choreography, in general, is stunning! The Sing-Off gives a platform for a capella singing that I have not found anywhere else. I do get a bit tired of the hype between dances/songs for these shows, but the dances and songs make them worth while to me. Except for Scandal and Big Bang Theory, you will notice that they all involve music and choreography.
PBS should be mentioned too as adding to my enjoyment. It has such fine dramas (usually British) and dramacomedies as well as music performances and documentaries (nature, history, science) that I will certainly be watching them. I do not subscribe to cable.

May. 18 2013 12:17 PM
Steve Bonial from New Mexico

There are a couple other fatal dynamics at play beyond those correctly cited by Joe Adalian (e.g. 4th quarter ad sales being hard habit to break). Namely, 1) networks are held to more restrictive FCC content standards than are cable outlets, inherently "watering down" their content; "Breaking Bad" could not air on NBC, at least not in prime time. 2) In the vein of not breaking old habits, and with #1 above, network shows often tend to be the same-old same-old ostensibly repackaged with a new look...the same sheep in lamb's clothing. Read the log lines for this year's pilots -- they're largely either ridiculous "least common denominator" pablum and/or a rehash of a previous success. Take ABC's "Mixology," that network's most internally hyped pilot of the season, which combines both. Effectively, it's just "Friends" in a bar.

So where does that leave the networks?: Watered down rehashing of crap that still generates enough money to justify it to highly risk-averse corporate execs. I.e. creative junk in attractive packaging -- "McTV" -- which is why it numbs one's mind to watch this stuff, and why they can't attract the truly good writers and producers who instead flock to outlets where they are most free to explore the boundaries of their medium -- cable, Netflix, etc. -- and which in turn makes for the most compelling tv.

Emeril ain't cooking at Burger King, and Vince Gilligan ain't writing for CBS, yo. It ain't rocket surgery.


May. 17 2013 11:37 AM

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