Will there be TV stations in 5 years?
August 29, 2008 6:11 PM   Subscribe

So, what will really happen to the mainstream media?

For the last six years I have worked at a TV station, owned by a newspaper company. I started out as a researcher & six years later and after the whole "hey, you know computers, right?" thing I run the web department and oversee a staff of 10, where we run six websites...you know, the whole "innovator" thing...

Aside from all of the hostile/arrogant behavior of people as they fear the "web takeover" I really like what I do and where I work, but I feel like a) I am good at working where I am, but not sure how adaptable I will be if I have to work somewhere else and b) maybe as a last-rated TV station in the market and owned by a newspaper company (Gannett) we won't be there much longer so I should start honing my skills...

Anyone care to prognosticate as to where the mainstream media will be - if it even exists - in five years? I'd really like to hear from you smart, real people, as I am tired of all the industry bullcrap that's ending up in front of my eyeballs for the last few years...
posted by mad_little_monkey to Work & Money (27 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'm a programmer in a sorta-vaguely-youtube-new-media startup, and have a great interest in how people do things [as in, how will people get information, etc].

Nonetheless, for the next few years, I don't expect much of a change to TV stations. Stations (specifically the actual networks, not local folk) will do more in the vein of Hulu / iTunes / Unbox, putting their content up on the web either for pay or with ads. This will only be the shows, nothing news-y (for pay, at least). They'll all put the news-y clips up on their own sites, of course.

However, all of this will be in conjunction with them keeping on keeping on, doing what they've always done - broadcast to your living room. After all, people much older than 25 are not accustomed to torrenting everything they want, webcasting, etc. [Of course, this is not true on a per-person basis, but on a demographics thing. There are many older folk who are just fine with it, that's not the point]. Until they become less important, you can't get around it.

Running a bunch of websites for a tv corp, especially if it involves a lot of your content going up in a timely fashion, and your staff having columns online with fora/comments that are responsive [as in, the writers are involved in the comment section, not just "here's a place for you to blather and feel important, go!"] is pretty useful. That'll be the next five years. If you know much about hosting, ad networks/pricing, and inter-system operability, drm, etc, you should be good.

Granted, past 5-7 years I'm not sure that's true, nor would I feel comfortable making any predictions at all.

disclaimer: while I am a real person, I'm not claiming to be smart, or have any info on this that a reasonably-interested outsider would
posted by Lemurrhea at 6:30 PM on August 29, 2008

Best answer: The MSM, ~70% of it at least, is the "primary sector" of the infotainment business, producing the hard news of who, what, where, when.

The good blogs focus on the secondary analysis sector -- why and how -- but generally require the hard news outlets for their raw materials to produce posts. This is a parasitical relationship to some extent but I think will be rather durable -- don't understimate inertia.

Even though I find the MSM's analysis and OpEd attempts laughably weak sauce, we should always keep in mind that the US is a nation of idiots, so I also don't expect much improvement or phase-out of the MSM's analysis output, even though 95% of this is worse than filler.
posted by troy at 6:31 PM on August 29, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks - great answer & much appreciated. It's just weird right now, with people getting laid off and everyone talking about how broke we are...
posted by mad_little_monkey at 6:33 PM on August 29, 2008

^ my answer above focused on the print media. I see the sequential, hard-scheduled, channeled TV viewing experience being superseded by pull programming sooner rather than later.
posted by troy at 6:37 PM on August 29, 2008

With the advent of digital TV, we should see an ever-expanding range of choice. It gets easier every day to set up as a broadcaster. Given that, increased competition should mean it becomes tougher for the individual broadcaster.

Advertising has had it on television because of DVRs. It will be a huge problem for broadcasters. How can you fund commercial television without advertising? In eight or ten years time, the advertisers will not want to pay you because no one will be watching the ads.
posted by netbros at 6:39 PM on August 29, 2008

Response by poster: What about local TV news? I have trouble thinking of broadcast news as pull content, by the time its encoded, its old. right?
posted by mad_little_monkey at 6:41 PM on August 29, 2008

Response by poster: And no one wants to by ads now...the salespeople are out of control right now. It is getting bizarre...
posted by mad_little_monkey at 6:42 PM on August 29, 2008

People need and want information gathered, edited and disseminated by some source. I think right now we're at an awkward time because the major news media companies haven't figured out how to monetize the Web amid declining circulation and advertising in their print editions, but someone will, because there's demand for information.

I think we'll see a few broad things happen:

1. Intensely local news. If there's still something called the Philadelphia Inquirer, for instance, it will cover only the city of Philadelphia -- not the surrounding suburbs like it does now -- and certainly not national or international news. And why would you go to their Web site to look at stories from a wire service? And the surrounding areas will have their own newspapers/news Web sites. (They do now, but I think they may actually expand while the major metros contract.) Or maybe there's no Philly paper, but there are several covering a few neighborhoods each.

2. Niche news. Local business news outlets will expand, so will local sports news outlets. Maybe your city will get a health care newspaper or an education newspaper. (This is really just an extension of "intensely local.") But even mainstream papers will get more niche-y. We'll get our entertainment news from the LA Times, our health and science news from the Baltimore Sun, our theater news from the New York Times, etc. Those papers will cover their local industries of national interest.

3. Broadly national/international news. The New York Times, or it's successor, won't cover New York at all. They'll leave that to city and neighborhood newspapers.

The current big dogs seem like they've been around forever, but keep in mind that the news hierarchy is always in flux. The Washington Post didn't get much respect until Watergate. The Washington Star was the important political newspaper before then, and it was gone a decade later.

I don't mean to paint an overly sunny picture, but I do think there will always be a market for news.
posted by Airhen at 6:44 PM on August 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

And sorry to focus so much on newspapers, but that's what I understand. I think the same applies to TV.
posted by Airhen at 6:46 PM on August 29, 2008

Best answer: First: television isn't going to disappear in five years. And in terms of the industry, straddling both web and television at the moment is a good, safe bet.

What I feel is more likely is that set-top boxes will start to use some of the bandwidth of HDTV and TV-over-IP to increasingly introduce intelligent, tagged, value-added content to your television. Right now it's very primitive: look at YouTube videos via your AppleTV or other device, download movies, have Tivo suggest (or record behind the scenes) other TV shows that you might be interested in based on viewing habits.

Think instead of what the web does best: community, lightning-fast association of diverse information, serendipity - and extend that to television. Love the little black dress Rachel is wearing in the "Friends" 10th anniversary reunion special? Order it while you watch the show. Watching re-runs? See pop-ups on the actors with "where are they now?" information, with links to download movies. Personalise the ads based on knowledge of who is watching.

In terms of newspapers - digital paper, if they can roll out the infrastructure quickly and cheaply enough. Otherwise newspapers will increasingly be in trouble.

All of this will take time, and a little luck: the economy not going any deeper into a recession (good news is that if it does people go after cheap entertainment in droves); a few technological hurdles passed. But it's very possible.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 6:48 PM on August 29, 2008

Response by poster: I'm at a TV station owned by an newspaper giant, so I am really interested in hearing thoughts on both. I just really want to figure out what I can do to help our station stay afloat. I have been training people on web stuff like a madwoman...
posted by mad_little_monkey at 6:49 PM on August 29, 2008

I also think the "democratization" of mass media will continue: reducing expenses (and gaining exclusive footage) by using home video cam, cellphone, even surveillance camera footage rather than traditional crews, repackaging that and putting a smiling TV-friendly face on top of it for interpretation. Bad news for professional cameramen, good news for video editors familiar with two dozen different formats.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 6:56 PM on August 29, 2008

As ac ontent consumer, I'll say that I still read print, but all my video-news and at least half of my text-news is consumed online. I'm fairly elated that I'm able to follow the DNC so far (including CNN and C-span bits) without turning on the big, clunky, add hick-upping thing in my living room. I hope to get much the same from the RNC. I still read papers because they're easy to pass around and they don't require that I periodically stop taking in content in order to focus on the advertisements.

So such media online and elsewhere) offers the problem of commercial viability to media-products that are largely dependent on ad revenue. However, there are also opportunities. These seem to be most apparent in the local sector. My favorite print papers are those that are free or cheap and report on and advertise primarily for local businesses, events, and art.

For instance, the Boston Globe has recently come back under local ownership after being bought out by the New York Times a few years ago. While I love the Times, its management of the Globe meant that local coverage (especially in the culture/arts department) was cut dramatically. The new owners seem to be trying (sloooowly, as this is an honorable paper bled dry during its temporary ownership by an obvious rival) to reverse this trend.

The web has meant two things for media: diversification and localization. This echos the basis of the network, which was built around the idea that one could mix national broadcasting with regional broadcasting in a somewhat seamless way, given a good staff and a proper set up. The internet should only aid this. Done right, the increased interface between the consuming public and the media purveyors should allow news outlets to better target ads which local interests will actually respond to (rather than merely tolerate with a bit of contempt) while also offering news, on both local and national level, that is relevant for the audience.


Long story short, it's all in how you sell/work it. You could do something great while enabling the marketing set to actually reach their desired audience. But it's going to take some doing/retooling. Otherwise, some punks are going to do it for free for a while. Then they're going to start charging for banner ads. Then they'll become your competition. This is, of course, already happening. Your move.
posted by es_de_bah at 7:12 PM on August 29, 2008

For instance, the Boston Globe has recently come back under local ownership after being bought out by the New York Times

The New York Times Co. still owns the Boston Globe.
posted by Airhen at 7:20 PM on August 29, 2008

I'm a 30-something from a politically aware and involved family that loves debating the issues (we just spent an hour on a conference call discussing Palin's nomination on a Friday night because that's how we roll). Anyways I'd guess we spend 90% of our media-related time on a) the web, including some mainstream stuff b) overseas media coverage c) personal knowledge of the people and issues involved and d) the Daily Show/ Colbert Report. A bit of alt-media like Rolling Stone/ Vanity Fair or info from political people wends it's way in too. I don't have a TV, neither do my siblings, but my parents do so they watch things like CNN.

We do all get our respective local and big-city papers, and read them pretty much cover to cover, but even the LA Times is just awful anymore. Basically I have very little respect for the printed media in the US anymore and I don't think I'm alone.

The networks are a joke: it's become a matter of much family speculation how the media will re-act if this campaign suddenly focuses on the issues instead of meaningless crap. Panic, presumably. Followed by the hiring of James Carville as a special correspondent to 'splain stuff.

If one news outlet stood up and started reporting on the actual issues I might actually start, I dunno, watching TV again or something radical like that.
posted by fshgrl at 7:44 PM on August 29, 2008

Best answer: If you are web-savvy and can lead teams you will never be out of work in the tech sector.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:54 PM on August 29, 2008

Best answer: Well, it's a bummer you work for a newspaper, since newspapers nationwide are in big, big financial trouble. Declining ad revenue. Declining circulation. Layoffs to try to balance the budget. Reduced news coverage. Rinse, repeat. It's no wonder your corporate overlords are moaning and wringing their hands. Theoretically, all that won't affect you and your web team, since your media are the future for your company, but management has been known to act stupidly.

I would try to put the print-newspaper horror stories aside, as you aren't on the print-media side of your company, and focus on doing your best for the tv-web business so you will look good to your manager and his boss when the revolution comes. It won't be pretty, but your tv station and web presence are valuable assets to Gannett. And if the worst happens, and you're out of a job, your experience and web skills are very valuable in today's job market.
posted by exphysicist345 at 8:00 PM on August 29, 2008

Congratulations. You're slightly ahead of the wave and should be gainfully employed in 5 or 10 years (probably at a different company.) The same can't be said for many of the people you work with today.

Web integration is coming. It's inevitable. Print is succumbing first, but broadcast TV will fall too at some point. Think about it: we're already moving toward internet delivery of video (look at Hulu.com) so how long before the six-o'clock news is irreverent? Ditto for cable television. It won't happen over night, the medium is too accessible and too saturated, but it will happen.

There will continue to be niche areas where print and broadcast media will be desired by the consumer, but only niches, not the ubiquitous occupation of space that we saw throughout the 20th century.

Think about where you are when you read a newspaper. On the train. At lunch. Gone are the morning's coffee sipping and digging through the local paper. Gone are the evenings spent in the den, flipping through the evening edition.

Think about where you are when you watch broadcast news. At a bar. An airport lounge. Maybe at home... but no more organizing your life around a 6pm broadcast. No more staying up late to catch the 11pm news.

You'll get it all - print and video - on your computer or hand held device on demand, from now on (well until peak oil hits and we move into a post-industrial stone age where such devices become too expensive - then we'll return briefly to dead wood publishing, before scratching out our histories on cave walls... but that's at least a few decades away...)
posted by wfrgms at 10:00 PM on August 29, 2008

I think there will always be a market for something like TV, and I imagine the old media will adapt, because the transition seems to be at a rate they can keep up with. Once broadband internet is ubiquitous and cheap, I expect to see boxes that tune into something like Joost, which will enable anyone from any area to sign up with any cable-style TV company, destroying the oligarchy we have today. Much more of the programs will be on-demand, but more ads will become standard to help subsidize the lower prices competition will bring. There will likely be second tier plans with less ads for the cable company, but ads from the network will remain. The new boxes will have a nice interface, making it easy to load cable-style TV or Youtube and other user-posted/flash video with just a few button hits on a remote.
posted by mccarty.tim at 10:22 PM on August 29, 2008

Best answer: On demand content is definitely the future of entertainment and information, but I don't think your local TV station is going anywhere in the next 5 years. Local TV news is still the most popular news source in the US, although they are on a downward trend (nice report here, with a goo chart about 1/3 down the page).

My impression is that local broadcasters are in denial about the impact of new technologies on their primary revenue source-advertising. I talked with a few local broadcast sales people in this top 50 market last semester for a class I was teaching, and when I asked one of them about how the Internet & Tivo, etc. were going to affect ad sales I just got a blank look. Dull surprise.

I don't think the wolf is really at the door yet for local broadcasters, because most people still do watch and listen (people on MeFi are almost certainly not average in this respect). But the numbers are dropping--not maybe very quickly, but it does seem to be a steady decline. The major networks have started to catch on in the last year or so, putting more of their content online with limited advertising, and right now it probably doesn't cut into local stations revenues. But it will, and when it does, well, the shit will hit the fan, because I don't think local stations are prepared. And I'm not sure what they can do to prepare, except build models for revenue that don't depend on appointment eyeballs. And invest in localism, b/c people always want to know what's going on in their backyards.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 10:33 PM on August 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

*good chart, not goo! yuck.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 10:34 PM on August 29, 2008

After all, people much older than 25 are not accustomed to torrenting everything they want, webcasting, etc.

D00d, I'm 46 and I haven't watched "TV" three times in the last two years. My friends who are also my contemporaries make heavy, heavy use of the 'net and barely watch TV.

Conversely, I know all sorts of young people who watch huge quantities of the damned box and aren't at all net-savvy.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:21 AM on August 30, 2008

Best answer: These are great answers. Thank you for your question.

I think you are at the right place at the right time: local, web, tv, news.

While working on a web project for a local tv recently, it helped me greatly to establish a distinction between putting tv content on the web and creating a community of viewers. Ultimately, both are complementary but at the starting phase, it can't be done by the same people: broadcasting people know how to create and package a product whereas creating communities is about hospitality, welcoming and encouraging people to express themselves. The first is about controlling an output, the second is about hosting people and their conversations.

MSM, by definition, are constrained by space. But web space is basically unlimited. So as soon as they stumble on the web, MSM people generally get drunk on space: they just want to put all their shows on the web, memorize and make available their past shows, then give blogs to their main content producers and, only as an afterthought, maybe host the comments of the populace. All of this is fine but for the afterthought. So if we take just this part of expanding broadcasting on the web, you'll have work for years to come.

Then there is the community part, which can use the same characteristics of the web (unlimited space, memory) but for your viewers' content, not your producers'. And there are not 10 ways to do it, only one: you have first to give them a home in your home. Give them each a personal page to host, or link to, all their contributions. You have to treat them as important contributors whose content is appreciated, and who can build an identity and a reputation. A home in your home. You have to welcome them, help them, encourage them, cherish them.

And of course, the topics of their conversations, their "communities of interest" are built around your tv output. Ideally, as Lemurrhea said it above, the writers or the tv hosts should be involved in the forum or collective blog about their show. But believe me, it's not always possible. Lots of MSM authors, anchors, journalists, hosts feel more threatened than thrilled by their own readers and viewers. Evangelization is a thankless job. Better let curious tv people come to you than preaching the web gospel to them.

Ultimately, we can see that the community part and the broadcasting part are becoming like a push and pull machine. But until then, you have a lot of work in front of you in those two areas. Don't worry about the business part. If people are in your home, business will follow. Between your web tv content and your community content, your job is pretty secure for years to come.
posted by bru at 9:09 AM on August 30, 2008

As a person employed to do webstuff for a major TV broadcaster, I have to point out that:

a. You're asking a bunch of web people on a relatively obscure (albeit fantastic for my money) website what they think will happen in 5-10 years. They'll veer towards the web side of things.

For my money, the main "threat" to your job is far more down to the advertising side of things as opposed to new technologies. Companies have left to spend, ergo less to spend on advertising. And the money they *are* going to spend on advertising is going to go more and more to the web as it can be finely targetted - assuming they're going for a web-savvy audience. So much as your tv colleagues bitterly complain about the web takeover, they should be whining at the fact that it's all dependent on advertising and sponsorship revenues - a bit like radio.

For mainstream entertainment that everyone can enjoy, television will still be the main way of accessing it - perhaps augmented by web services, but it'll still be television.

You're not going to see a scenario where television disappears in 10 or 20 years time - its importance will diminish, but people will still crowd round televisions during major events. Or even when you just don't want to interact, but sit there and passively consume.
posted by almostwitty at 11:49 AM on August 30, 2008

Best answer: I don't know where your company will be in 5 years' time, but given your employer is owned by a newspaper company, you're wise to start thinking about your options.

There is some good advice here about focusing the website, building communities, etc, but no matter how hard you work and how smart your decisions are, you won't single-handedly be able to prevent either a) the local TV ad market drying up or b) Gannett going under - if these things happen. And if you're working in a place that still has a lot of hostility towards the web, your job is probably already pretty stressful without having to train people like a madwoman!

I gather you're female, smart and hard-working; I'd also guess that you're fairly young: please, please don't delude yourself that working your ass off for your employer is somehow worthwhile! Do you really think they'll be worrying about you if/when the going gets tough? You'll probably be one of the last people they'd want to lose, but that doesn't mean you won't suffer as staff numbers and budgets are cut all around you, or that you won't be expected to work ever harder for a stagnating salary.

You'll be more employable within the media than your more curmudgeonly colleagues. But you might not want to stay in the industry for another 5 years. Or you might just not want to work for the one broadcaster surviving in your city. Make sure your technical, leadership and communications skills are transferable enough to be useful in all sorts of other industries. In the meantime, keep fighting the good fight but don't burn yourself out.
posted by 8k at 4:48 PM on August 30, 2008

Response by poster: thanks all
posted by mad_little_monkey at 6:11 PM on August 30, 2008

Expect the major networks do drop their affiliates.

NBC, ABC and CBS depend on local stations to deliver content - but with the new paradigm of Hulu-ish sites, that will change as the networks can deliver content directly.
posted by Lownotes at 7:34 AM on April 27, 2009

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