Free Markets, Free People

Network news circling the drain?

The NYT, a member of another news venue with serious problems, carries an article today about the problems network news faces.  Network news is differentiated from cable news as news shows carried by the traditional big 3 networks (at a certain time) as opposed to cable/satellite TV networks (CNN, MSNBC, Fox News) that cover the news 24/7.

As James Joyner says: “So what?”  It’s not like “news” is going away.

There is certainly nothing sacrosanct about network news, and certainly while lamenting the passing of an semi-old tradition, there’s nothing really being lost here in terms of news delivery if they do close up shop.  Things change and evolve.  That’s what is happening with network news.

Look, I’m one of those guys who remember watching Chet Huntley and David Brinkley each night with my dad.  That’s how far back I go.  But you have to remember that those guys supplanted radio news as the primary source for Americans.  And Movietone newsreels shown at movie houses also went down the tubes because of them.  But today, the delivery of news has evolved from appointment TV (you have to be there when they’re ready to present the news) to 24/7 “the news is ready when your are” TV. 

Which do you suppose makes more sense to the viewer?  News when they want it or news when the network wants to present it?

In fact I’m rather surprised to see network news has survived as long as it has.  I can tune into CNN headline news and essentially get the same thing – a half hour round up of the top stories of the day – whenever I choose to do so.  And if I want in-depth coverage, I certainly don’t wait to watch network news or for the newspaper to show up – I google it.

For the networks, reality has finally reared its ugly head:

The economic problems facing ABC News and CBS News in many ways mirror those faced by newspapers, which have been similarly afflicted by a drop in advertising revenue. The reaction — severe cuts in personnel and other costs — also looks to be the same.

But can you shrink your way to prosperity? Andrew Heyward, the former president of CBS News who is now a news media consultant (NBC News is one client), said of the ABC cuts: “The real issue after this is what is going to drive growth? How do you generate more profit? And this doesn’t address that.”

The networks are mostly vehicles of entertainment. And in the past, when there were no alternatives, network news was a profit center. It no longer is a profit center. So what ABC and CBS (NBC has MSNBC and CNBC so they’re not quite in the same boat) have to decide is whether the “tradition” of their news services are worth preserving and paying for with profits from the entertainment side, or whether it is all about profit and non-profitable enterprises have to be dropped.

My guess is they’ll finally decide on the latter. Not because they’re necessarily cheap or don’t want to preserve tradition. No, instead they’re going to realize that even if they do preserve their news operation it won’t bring in any more viewers than it does now. The habit of “appointment TV” is forever broken and people are no longer going to arrange their lives around the time CBS or ABC chooses to present the news when they have so many other more appealing choices available.

Time to pull the plug, boys.



8 Responses to Network news circling the drain?

  • They could simply contract out their news slot to CNN to save money while still keeping “the News” like radio stations do already.

  • I think they may be better spent using the money they’d spend on their worthless network news and possibly make some of it available to affiliates to beef up their local news operations, maybe use it to provide select national coverage pieces for broadcast. Local news is still a big deal that the cable nets can’t deal with effectively (not every city has a NY1 for example)

  • I’ve heard some reports that indicate ABC is going to be the first to cut it’s news completely.

    But I think NBC is losing the most money.

    I can’t remember the last time I watched network news – it’s been many years.   People like me are the real problem for them – and there’s nothing they can do about it. 

  • Good riddance, say I.  O’ course, had the networks offered more news and less propaganda, people might still be tuning in.

    McQ[T]oday, the delivery of news has evolved from appointment TV (you have to be there when they’re ready to present the news) to 24/7 “the news is ready when your are” TV. 

    While there is no question that 24 hr news and the internet have cut into the market for the Big Three, I suggest that “appointment TV” is still quite popular and hence a money maker: witness the high ratings for the evening lineup on Fox News, or for that matter various radio talk shows.

    Again, had the networks done more to have nightly NEWS instead of nightly “an attractive person reading to you what we think you need to know AND what you ought to think about it”, they’d be doing just fine.

    • Is appointment TV still popular, or, are DVR’s popular? I don’t sit down and watch network entertainment when they want me too – I record it and watch it when I want too.

      • Six of one, half-dozen of the other.  People will still make time to watch a particular news program if they think that the content is worthwhile.  Otherwise, the cable networks would have only continuous straight news read by more-or-less anonymous, interchangable readers and not have programs “starring” particular anchors / reporters.

  • I can’t say for sure, but it has probably been at least 15 years since I’ve regularly watched network news.

    Maybe in that time I’ve seen one or two of their evening news broadcasts end to end, but that’s about it.

    Part of the reason, perhaps the main reason, is the personalities of the news anchors (can’t stomach them), just ahead of the sopping bias in the presentation. Maybe things have gotten better. I don’t know, because I dropped them all.

    The most I’ve seen of Katie Couric as anchor at CBS has been a three-beat stop while surfing.

    I’ve also dumped CNN and MSNBC, the latter having been my tune-in background channel for years until it got so obnoxious during the run-up to the 2008 election that I couldn’t even gag down Morning Joe.

    Fox doesn’t thrill me either (can’t take more than five seconds of Shepard Smith) but Bret Baier’s news broadcast at 6 p.m. Eastern vaguely holds my attention. The panel of talking heads in the second half features Krauthammer, who has really upped his game since the Obama crisis began.

    O’Reilly is all but useless; I think that Hannity is a good guy but he’s too loud for me.

    Glenn Beck has done some surprisingly good work. It’s hit and miss with him, and he is a little bit nuts. But he can also be extremely funny. Catch him when he becomes the pipe-smoking liberal and you’ll burst out laughing.

    Larry Kudlow’s program on CNBC at 7 p.m. Eastern is a good watch a lot of the time. Lots of different takes on the economy and markets. He has some very smart people on. Joe Battataglia is the king of the Bears (and in fact resembles a bear). When he’s on, it’s to bring the bad news. He saw the whole thing coming down early in 2008, probably earlier because that’s only when I first noticed him.

    This blog, National Review online, the Wall Street Journal, various other blogs, and the continuous flux of wire news have way more content than the TV stuff. I don’t read, or rarely read, the Weekly Standard. Take a look at the American Spectator and Front Page Mag pretty frequently, but don’t read much. Look at the New York Times, but that’s far more biased than ever. The science reporting is revolting, always trying to find a political angle. It’s a good stop for obits and some headlines. Most of it is crap. I only go to the Washington Post on pointers to very specific types of articles, usually having to do with national security.

    Drudge is good for pointers to British papers and for various items.

    City Journal and First Things are regular stops. But they are not news sites.

    I only listen to talk radio, it seems, when there’s an election coming. On occasion, I’ll go to Limbaugh to see what’s up with him.

    And, again, McQ et al. keep this place moving and focused at the same time. And they’re never wrong unless I disagree with them. That never seems to change.