Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Are We Fading Away From TV

A recent Nielsen report confirmed that I’m far from alone in what I’ve found myself doing whenever I watch television.

It is one thing that 57% of smartphone and tablet users check e-mail, while according to Nielsen, 44% surf for unrelated info and the same percentage visit social networking sites during TV programs.commercials

Even more chilling for advertisers is the finding that during commercials nearly 60% check e-mail, 44% surf for unrelated information and a similar percentage visit social networking sites.

To put those percentages in perspective, as of last fall, the number of smartphone users reached 95.8 million or 44% of US mobile subscribers.  They might be called smartphones but a new study reveals that only 5% of their use is as a telephone even though it's just been 10 years since the first model provided web access.

A little more than 12 months after the first tablet was launched there were already more than 15 million users.  It is forecast that in a little over three years from now 65% of Americans will have smartphones or tablets. Significantly, 70% of tablet use is home where 39% use it for news and 34% for sports.

All of this has to be extremely troubling for people who make their living working in television.  When I get the opportunity to carefully listen to friends and associates who work in the various media that provide news and information, I find the sense of quiet frustration if not desperation is palpable.

It isn't easy to sustain one paradigm while shifting to another, especially when neither the path nor the ultimate outcome is at all clear and so many human lives and jobs are at stake. And the courage it takes to break up a paradigm is often thwarted by the reality of sunken capital costs and worried investors.

I don't know if it's bravado or just being frozen by the trauma they have been witnessing for some time no by traditional daily print newspapers, but many of the very smart people working in television seem much less worried than it seems they should be.

While the obnoxious barrage of negative and deliberately misleading television ads now being visited on Republican primary states is probably a windfall for many television networks and outlets, when it thrust upon the nation as a whole later this year during the run up to the general election it is bound to accelerate the trend of tuning out commercials.

For decades now, the effectiveness of the advertising element of the marketing mix has seen a dramatic decline.  It is now in the negative numbers for all but a handful of huge national categories of advertisers.  It has also been shown to be ineffective for political campaigns except to line the pockets of consultants and those who produce and televise the commercials.

Using what's happened to newspapers I wonder if we will see the following trends come to pass with television:

  • Will it only be a matter of time until the number of channels begin to collapse or will we see a few excel while the content of most becomes very sent and repetitive and increasingly trivial until they begin to collapse?


  • Will editorial television news become driven so much by the need for ratings that critical details are withheld, blurred or buried in order to extend these stories’ lifecycle?


  • Will the number of programs decline to the point where reruns and reruns of reruns predominate and new programming is dominated by clones and clones of clones?


  • Will staffing for television news be trimmed so thin that like radio they begin to merely interview each other as sources?


  • Will watching television for news and information become annoying because the delivery seems so incredibly slow and the stories seem so repetitive or a day or more old by the time they are aired?


Oh yes, come to think of it, these conditions are already occurring and in the immortal words of Charles Hardin Holly – “we fade away".


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