Thursday, May 19, 2016


The US television industry has long fascinated me, an entertainment outlet driven by technology. David Sarnoff introduced television at the World's Fair in 1939 and developed the NBC network to provide content so people would buy RCA televisions, much the way Steve Jobs created the iTunes store to sell iPods. For decades television was broadcast over the air funded mostly by commercials. You could only watch a show when it aired and people adjusted their schedules to the broadcast schedule. People stayed home instead of going to the theater, movies, social clubs and restaurants. They all still exist but not to the extent before television. The nature of jobs changed. One funny comedian on TV would make considerable money but would put hundreds of vaudeville comedians out of a job.

In the 70's came cable television to big cities, initially to provide a better signal. But it also provided more stations including stations that were paid explicitly by consumers like HBO and implicitly through cable subscriptions like ESPN. ESPN is the single largest source of revenue for Disney. Eventually we would have hundreds of cable stations, many very specialized.

In the 80's came the VCR, then the DVR. No longer did we need to plan our time around the TV broadcast schedule. Eventually TV shows could have a continuing story line allowing for richer plot and character development.

Then came the Internet and streaming video. You could watch videos from series and movies on Netflix to user generated short pieces on YouTube or shorter still on Vine. People are watching TV not so much on TVs anymore but on their computers and phones. Like many others we have cut the cable cord in the Fortnow household, a trend that the industry still tries to fathom. Every cord cutter is $6 less a month to ESPN and the Disney bottom line.

 Why bring up TV now? This is what used to be the most exciting week for television, the upfronts, where the broadcast networks reveal their new seasons to advertisers and the public at large. The networks are still having their presentations and parties, but the new shows fail to excite and quite a few retreads and revivals including 24, Prison Break, MacGyver, Tales from the Crypt, Gilmore Girls. Do you remember the Muppets returning last year? Neither do I.

We are in a golden age of television. One could take a rich novel and turn it into an equally rich 10-13 episode TV series. There were over 400 scripted TV series, and more really good series than I have time to watch (basically when I run on the treadmill). Meanwhile the networks continue to promote and party though an undercurrent of a very uncertain future. Watching the television industry is itself a never ending story.

1 comment:

  1. Lance, you appear to be nothing like their key demographic audience. Congratulations. While I did not watch the new Muppets show, and I watch a grand total of five network TV shows, I was well aware of its return. Perhaps we are in the golden age of CABLE where the miniseries and the short series and the shows that are only deep enough for a 10-episode season can and do get made and air.