A signal moment in the slow, painful meltdown of the broadcast TV industry
The LATimes reports that network TV just ain’t what it used to be…
Like the networks themselves, though, the quarterly sweeps — which some stations still use to set local ad rates — have fallen on hard times. For the May sweep that ended last Wednesday, NBC couldn’t be bothered to make the earth move. Among the network’s prime-time offerings as the period drew to a close: repeats of “The Office,” “Law & Order: SVU” and “Most Outrageous Moments.”
That’s right. During a supposedly competitive sweep, the fourth-place network went with a cornucopia of reruns. (NBC executives declined to comment, according to a spokeswoman.)
NBC paid a steep price for this approach, posting an alarming 27% plunge among adults ages 18 to 49 compared with the year-earlier period, according to figures from Nielsen Media Research. That’s the kind of earthquake you don’t want when you’re running a network.
But let’s not pick on one network alone. With the exception of Fox’s surprisingly strong “American Idol” finale on Wednesday, the May ratings have been pretty atrocious across the board, in a strike-shortened year that’s already shaping up as the TV executives’ annushorribilis.
The worst part is this may be no temporary hiccup. Increasingly, the shutdown and aftermath of the writers strike that ended in February is beginning to look like a signal moment in the slow, painful meltdown of the broadcast-TV industry.
Broadcasting, simply put, isn’t casting broadly anymore. As the sweep suggests, the TV networks are losing not just their viewers but also their sense of specialness. They’re becoming just the lowest numbers on the multichannel dial, rather than the last outposts of mass culture. It’s true that this evolution has been happening for years, but this year a tipping point was reached, a Rubicon crossed. Broadcast exceptionalism — its supposed immunity from the market forces afflicting all other media — is finally dead.
So will it help when we move to all digital TV?
The NYTimes tells us today that that some will be left behind in that move:
NEARLY 25 million homes have at least one television set that will stop functioning in nine months, when the nation converts to digital over-the-air television.
Ten million of those homes are considered “completely unready” for the conversion, according to a report scheduled to be released Tuesday by Nielsen Media Research.