Reports of Death Had Better Be Exaggerated

All four major U.S. commercial TV networks are associated with movie distribution studios. Three are associated with theme parks.
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You might not have noticed that broadcasters still exist. The reason you may not have noticed is that some famous broadcasters are into other businesses.

That ain't exactly wet-ink news. At one time or another, if you bought a Fender guitar, a Steinway piano, a copy of Woman's Day magazine, a Columbia record, a ticket to a New York Yankees game, a DVD of a Paramount movie, a Child Guidance toy, or a Holt, Reinhart & Winston book, you were sending money to CBS.

All four major U.S. commercial TV networks are associated with movie distribution studios. Three are associated with theme parks (and methinks my last remaining neuron, Nellie, wouldn't be too surprised to learn that the fourth is, too).

DIVERSITY LIVES

Like any big conglomerates, they're diversified. Maybe that'll help them survive the biggest economic mess since The Great Depression (and I ain't referring to the hypothetical day when Mr. Rogers didn't smile), but, unfortunately, it tends not to focus their interest on broadcasting.

Hey, they ain't alone. Last month, we celebrated the 88th (or so, but 88 is a lucky number in big chunks of Asia, so I'm going with it) convention of the good old National Association of Broadcasters. So, can you name one exhibitor that showed a TV transmitter?

The NAB convention ain't been a majority-broadcast convention in I don't know how long—decades probably. I remember when they stuck Internet things over at the Sands Convention Center, and it was more crowded there than at the main convention halls.

Heck, even when broadcasters, themselves, exhibit stuff, it ain't necessarily broadcast. A big chunk of the Central Hall at the NAB conventions for the last few years has been devoted to NHK. Methinks that's a Roman-alphabet abbreviation for "Japan Broadcasting Corp.," but what they've been showing has been on a 40-foot-widescreen. Either living rooms are a lot bigger in Japan than I've been led to believe, or Super Hi-Vision ain't exactly intended for ordinary broadcasts to the home.

EXAGGERATED REPORTS

"But, Mario, isn't over-the-air broadcasting dead?"

To paraphrase Mark Twain (who paraphrased himself), those reports have been exaggerated. More to the point, you'd better hope they're wrong.

Here's a case in point, a report from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press issued on March 12 of this year, not one whole heck of a long time ago. It lists "Regular Sources of Local News." Based on a survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adults conducted earlier the same month, 66 percent use TV, 41 percent newspapers, 34 percent radio, and 31 percent the Internet. If you add in online TV, the TV number increases to 68 percent.

So, how about we delve into those sources a wee mite more? Talk about dying media, and newspapers pop right to the top of the list. The Rocky Mountain News, which had been Denver's newspaper since 1859, didn't quite make it to its 150th birthday. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer followed. Expect more papers to close soon.

The Pew Internet number is strong and growing, but 13 percent of it is online newspaper sites and 11 percent online TV sites. Take away those, and just where is the local news that folks get from the Internet supposed to come from, eh?

Likewise, as more and more radio stations get programmed remotely, they ain't going to have much in the way of local news departments. That leaves TV, but it ain't immune to our analysis.

There are a whole heck of a lot of sources of TV news that ain't local U.S. broadcasters, and I include in that grouping broadcast-related ones like Fox News and BBC World News. But that ain't local news.

I'd be royally thrilled to be proved wrong, but methinks that, except for a handful of local cable operations, the only source of local news on TV comes from a local broadcaster. So, if local broadcasts go away, so does the public's number one source of local news. Q.E.D.

That's news. How about sports?

SPORTS TOPS THE LIST

This time, let's try Nielsen Media Research, with results of an HDTV study released in December of last year. First of all, they found that sports events were the most popular form of HDTV programming. Guess what was number two? Right, sports commentary programming. HDTV households watched 45 percent more sports events and 31 percent more sports-commentary programs than they did dramatic programming.

Dramatic programming can be had on dozens of cable and satellite channels, not to mention DVDs and Blu-ray discs and Netflix and other downloads. Sports, on the other hand (where—hint to secret identity—I have five fingers), except for ESPN and a few other outlets (including boxing on HBO and Showtime) belongs to broadcasters.

Shall we continue down Nielsen's list? It probably ain't any big surprise that sports is tops when it comes to HDTV, but number three is—ready?—political programming. Methinks C-SPAN didn't go HDTV when I wasn't looking, so that, too, goes into the broadcast category. Want to sell more HDTVs? You'd better hope TV broadcasting continues.

VIVA LA BROADCASTING

I ain't here to be a cheerleader for those broadcasters; I'm more of a worry wart. Many folks who are getting direct reception of off-air digital broadcasts are finding they don't get all of the stations. Top-engineer Merrill Weiss recently reported on some scary reception issues in the field relating to suspension-bridge towers. Methinks they ain't going to be dismantled to assist broadcasters. So there's selective reception.

Some TV broadcasters have responded with plans for robust mobile transmission. But, (A) the scary Weiss report was based on mobile stuff, (B) digital TV stations ain't the only source of mobile programming, and (C) do folks really want to watch TV on cell phone screens?

At least the mobile-TV folks are trying to figure out ways for over-the-air broadcasters to stay in business (without necessarily teaming up with movie studios, theme parks, or piano manufacturers). Produce or distribute TV programs, equipment or sets? Help keep broadcasting alive!

Mario Orazio is the pseudonym of a well-known television engineer who wishes to remain anonymous. E-mail him atmorazio@nbmedia.com.