Evolution Shift
A Future Look at Today
July 22nd, 2008

Future Forecast – Media and Network Television

In the column “2007/2008” published on January 1, 2008 I made a prediction concerning media that is worth revisiting.

At the beginning of the year the entertainment industry was in the middle of the writer’s strike.  I wrote:   “The writers’ strike in the entertainment business is now two months old. Its’ length, the animosity it has engendered and the immediate consequences of it are significant.  It has within it the seeds of structural and permanent change in the entertainment business……While the detailed outcome of the strike is not clear, what is clear is that it will have a permanent structural impact on the entertainment business.  It is a “change event” of some magnitude.”

This has turned out to be an accurate prediction.  All one has to do is take a look at the broadcast networks’ schedules to see the affects of the writer’s strike.  The once proud networks, home to magnificent dramas and classic comedy, now are reduced to filling evening after evening with reality competition shows.  Who wants to marry the farmer?  Who is the best celebrity dancer?  Which grossly overweight contestant will lose the most pounds?  These programs all fit under the umbrella title of ‘reality programming’ yet we know that they aren’t real in the true sense, but are staged, rehearsed, manipulated and highly edited.

Broadcast television through the decades was defined by great writing.  Think Rod Serling, Norman Lear,  Matt Groening and many others.  The networks stood for the highest quality television.  This quality came from great writing. The standard criticism broadcast network executives made about cable networks in the 1980s and 1990s was that the program quality was second rate; it was “cable” and of low quality.  Each of the broadcast networks had some sense of brand identity.  That is no longer the case. The power and influence of the broadcast networks from 1950 – 1995 was huge and unparalleled in American history.  The modern advertising industry was created in partnership with this media colossus.  That is the glorious past, crushed under the growth of cable, the Internet and stubborn holding to outdated business models.  That was the first fundamental decline. This was just verified last week by the huge number of Emmy nominations that cable and basic cable  received, compared to the no longer dominant broadcast networks.

The audience levels of the broadcast networks are down substantially this year compared to last year.  It is very likely this audience loss will be permanent. Viewers could no longer find the quality of writing they had enjoyed, so they went elsewhere. When the history of the American broadcast networks is written in 5-10 years, the writer’s strike, and the inability of the broadcast networks to respond creatively, will be clearly viewed as one of the final nails in the coffins of the broadcast networks cultural entertainment influence.

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In times of global uncertainty and disruption it takes a futurist to provide context and understanding.

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