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.