NPR: An Impending Period of Transitional Chaos for Media

I don’t write about broadcast media much – it’s not my thing.  I’ve definitely had my entertaining moments – including a very strange lunch at Blackrock with Mel Karmizan when he was the president of CBS pre-Viacom (“the Internet – it is irrelevant to us – you just can’t sell enough ads on it”) and a due diligence trip to a South Carolina radio station when I was at Ameridata in 1994 (“Maybe we should buy them and try to introduce computers into the radio business” – at least lunch was good).  However, I do like 24 (I plan to be Jack Bauer in my next life) and I thought last week’s West Wing was superb.

My trip home from the airport coincided with NPR so I listened to an hour of it.  Near the end, Bob Garfield had a fun piece titled An Impending Period of Transitional Chaos for Media.  He started out with the hypothesis – What if network broadcast media simply disappeared?  What if TV as we know it was replaced by something really cool (cut to the theme from The Jetsons).  Over the air network is gone, affiliates are gone, satellite radio is a 4 billion dollar eight track tape player pushed aside by free podcasting.  What if the old model collapsed before the new model was ready?

Now, I always find it mildly entertaining when mainstream media (e.g. NPR) talks about its impending demise (it feels so self indulgent in a sick, twisted way), but Garfield deeply believes disruption on a mass scale is coming.  He leads with the quote “I truly believe … that today’s marketing model is broken” by Jim Stengel, Global Marketing Officer of P&G telling ad agencies that network TV isn’t giving advertisers its money’s worth (and P&G – the biggest advertiser in the world – spends $5.5 billion per year on advertising).  Then – the facts:

  • Network audience has eroded 2% a year for the past decade
  • Advertiser cost of reaching consumer in the past decade has tripled
  • This assumes that folks watching on Tivo are actually watching the ads (which of course, they aren’t)

Ok – so now that broadcast media is going to die – he goes on to talk about vLogs and how mass media will be overthrown by micromedia. Then – cut to the ubiquitous Jeff Jarvis for a sound bite on the public flogging of Tucker Carlson by Jon Stewart (400k viewers on CNN, 5m viewers on the Internet) and pithy quotes from Drazen Pantic at about how chaos must ensue.

The last half of the broadcast loses some steam as it devolves into more lightweight banter about what’s going to happen, how it’s going to be a mess, how traditional media (e.g. CBS) thinks they must survive to uphold the American way, and how absurd that notion is.  But – overall – in 10 minutes – I thought Garfield did a good job of explaining what’s going on in a way that my mom could relate to.

I’ll end with my favorite West Wing quote of all time – when Josh is struggling with the NASA Mars chick that we think he’s going to have a romantic interlude with (but doesn’t – damn) and Leo is annoyed that Josh is wasting time on stupid NASA Mars stuff.  Leo turns to Josh and grumbles, “My generation never got the future it was promised… Thirty-five years later, cars, air travel’s exactly the same.  We don’t even have the Concorde anymore.  Technology stopped.”  Josh counters with “The personal computer,” but he can’t stop Leo who says “Where’s my jet pack, my colonies on the Moon?”

Having spent the last 17 hours (door to door) getting from Paris to Boulder, all I can say is my teleporter can’t be ready too soon.

  • Very nice. All that and no mention of Howard Stern leaving “legacy” broadcast media for XM Satellite!

  • Good entry.

    Gotta say though that John Spencer mumbled his way through the jet-pack line. “Where’s my NASA jet-pack?” is a joke from Jason Alexander — we were on Politically Incorrect together when he used it first and it was a lot funnier. (But full disclosure: I think West Wing jumped the shark last season and now — well, adding Leo to the ticket is one of the all-time worst story lines I can remember.)

  • Dave Jilk

    Broadcast media is a complete waste of spectrum. If there were a free market in frequencies, the networks would have shut down already, using the bandwidth for, I don’t know, long-distance garage door openers or something.

    Although I make a point to watch West Wing every week (agree with Charmaine about Leo… pathetic), I watch more episodes from the DVDs. I also watch Firefly on DVD, a great example of how good programs don’t make it on broadcast TV. I can never get the weather when I need it — not even on the darn weather channel, since they’re always showing tornado dramas… have to fire up the laptop. News shows feel like yesterday’s news since I check it during the day on Yahoo. What exactly is broadcast TV *for*? Not for programs, not for news, not for weather. Shut it down.

  • spencer wendt

    I heard the article and was surprised by how clearly it reflects a growing ‘under the radar’ theme being discussed about content…Cuban’s interview on the same subject last week is another take on the same theme: broadcast/channelized gatekeepers are on a negatively sloped curve.

    The storm clouds should be easy to see with the most conservative of telco’s, SBC and Veriz, starting to leak content and gear trials for IPTV, and other content plays.

    At the crossover point on that curve, I believe that the ‘broadcast’ replacement could be described as “On-demand” Media. I love ’24’ as well, and would pay to see it when I wanted, where I wanted. In fact, if I could pay 2bucks each for the 10-15 shows I follow (including Nova, Austin City Limits). The economics for me make sense, I could bolt TW cable and save about 30bones per month…

    When content distribution models change (telegraph to telephone, broadcast tv to cable, etc) the shifts are big and dramatic. Big winners, big losers, new winners and old losers…but best of all…lots of opportunity.

    Enjoy your takes, thanks for all the time you put in to sharing your thoughts.

  • Feld Sums Up NPR’s Media Chaos Piece

    Really great post from Brad Feld summing up the NPR Bob Garfield piece on media chaos that’s incited a lot of talk. I haven’t actually listened to the piece myself (bad blogger, I know) but Brad does a great job

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