Monday, December 15, 2008

History lesson

I was a little interested to notice this article on the trying times NBC is going through. It seems that television ratings are down 10% overall and to stave off bankruptcy the network is talking about slashing programming hours.

So what could possibly be driving down audience numbers? Three syllables, rhymes with "minternet." I've voiced my disdain of television before and it's partially because the internet offers on demand entertainment rather than adapting my life to network television scheduling. I really don't mind waiting for a network to post their shows online the next day or week, the urgency is really lost on me (but at least the networks get something out of their online advertising, I suppose).

Musing on this, it seems that part of how the networks are maintaining solvency is by producing more reality & talk television. I wonder if in the coming decade we'll see a drastic reduction in the amount of dramatic television. There's already been a noticeable drop in the fortunes of the situation comedy over the previous decade.

As a fan of Old-Time Radio all of this made me think of how the North American radio market tried to compete with television starting in the late 40s. As sponsors repositioned their money to television there was a gradual dip in the number of hours of network radio programming. Advances in syndication technology helped cut some costs and probably kept dramatic & comedic programming alive for a few more years, but most of the talent went where the money was; by 1955 almost all of the great radio talent had become television talent (even if, as in the case of Bing Crosby, they much preferred the radio medium).

Obviously the medium of radio still exists but while original dramatic & comedic programming are still occasionally heard, in no way do they dominate the airwaves. Radio is largely the province of music, news and talk.

So this is where I'm wondering how long until North American television goes the same way. Radio endured almost two decades until the last network shows ended in 1962. I expect the medium of television to survive, but with a change of content. There will likely always be a place on tv screens for syndicated programming, movies, news and talk but I wonder if within two decades the original dramatic & comedic network programming will all exist on the internet.

Then again, maybe the internet & television will both be run into the ground by some bright new technology which combines the inclusiveness of the internet with the convenience of television. Interesting times.

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