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Meet the New TV: It's the Old TV
October 21, 2015  | By Alex Strachan  | 2 comments

Television is the new television, except when it isn’t.

We’re watching more television than we ever were. Nobody watches television anymore. The DVR killed TV ads as a business model.

DVR viewing has tapered off; fewer people use DVRs today than were using DVRs just five years ago.

Viewers flocked to DVRs so they could fast-forward through the ads. Roughly more than half of all DVR viewers don’t fast-forward through the ads, CBS research chief David Poltrack told reporters this past summer at a meeting of the Television Critics Association, and then presented numbers to back his claim.

The TV advertising industry has never been healthier, judging from those Super Bowl ad rates. Football is having a tougher time scoring with advertisers, Variety reported last month.

The Big Bang Theory is the most watched program on TV, except when it’s The Walking Dead.

Nobody watches The Walking Dead at home; they’re too busy watching it on their mobile screens. Nobody wants to watch The Walking Dead on an iPad, let alone an iPod, if they have a big-screen TV at home.

Millennials are not home anymore, except when they’re living with their parents.

With so much contradictory signals out there, and so many more ways to share opinion, informed or not, in a nanosecond, it’s no surprise the experts are divided. What is a surprise is that, for anyone able to think for themselves, it’s clear the more the experts weigh in, the less they really know.

Polling — the official kind — doesn’t command the respect it used to. With billions of dollars of ad revenue at stake, and with more people getting their information from unscientific online polls Twitter or Facebook, or by texting among friends and leaving comments on YouTube, it’s becoming hard to tell an episode of Blindspot from The Blacklist, let alone how many viewers may be watching on any given Monday — that would be Blindspot — or Thursday (Blacklist) night.

Poltrack told me earlier this year that it’s a bad idea to form any opinion based strictly on anecdotal evidence, but I still don’t know that many people — in my immediate circle of friends, or people I meet casually on the street — who watch NCIS on a regularly basis, if at all. And yet, to hear Poltrack tell it — backed by the hard evidence of Nielsen numbers — NCIS is just about the most-watched program on the planet. Except when it’s The Big Bang Theory.

One thing does seem abundantly clear, though, anecdotally or not. Content — the programs themselves — has never mattered more. “It’s the programming, stupid,” CBS CEO Leslie Moonves famously said — and that was back in the 1990s, long before today’s myriad number of electronic distractions. The programs are as important as they ever were. What has changed is the way people are watching those programs. Game of Thrones is not only as popular — and widely watched — today as it would have been 25 years ago. Today, thanks to Twitter, Facebook and online chat forums, it’s practically an obsession. A worldwide obsession, at that.

The more mobile we become in our daily habits, the harder those habits are to track. Advertisers are concerned, because they no longer have one catchall number that tells them exactly how many potential customers are watching their ads. There’s a growing suspicion that, the more technology we have to occupy our time, the less time we have to watch the ads that pay for it all. (Personal disclosure: I hardly ever watch ads, if I can at all avoid them. The average prime-time hour-long network drama is now 42 minutes, slightly longer on cable. Those other 18 minutes are lost time. I’m one of the bad guys, in other words. I’m a taker, not a giver. I’m one of the Poltrack 45 percent, those viewers who religiously fast-forward through the ads on their DVRs. Yes I still use a DVR.)

In his book Television is the New Television: The Unexpected Triumph of Old Media in the Digiltal Age, published in June, veteran media writer Michael Wolff argues that the old model of TV has weathered 60 years of generational, behavioral and technological change surprisingly well, despite tectonic shifts in similar entertainment businesses like the music industry and print media. The economics of pay TV — the HBO-Showtime model — coupled with streaming services like Amazon and Netflix, has sparked an explosion of “storytelling on a riveting, epic, how-we-live-scale,” Wolff writes, “the baby boom trying to understand itself and the world it has wrought,” as epitomized by dramas like Mad Men (John Slattery, top) and Breaking Bad.

“The world still sits in front of a television,” Wolff writes.

As younger viewers turn away from traditional television to digital consumption of media, though, ad dollars are moving with them — though not as quickly as some media analysts predicted.

The change is happening, media analyst Alan Wolk writes in his own book, Over the Top: How the Internet Is (Slowly but Surely) Changing the Television Industry, published in May, mere weeks before Wolff’s book appeared. Passive, older viewers continue to watch TV much as they always have, Wolk says, but the 18-49-year-olds who spend much of their time squinting and poking away at smartphones — the audience advertisers are most desperate to reach — signal a future of restless, easily distracted consumers constantly in motion and constantly on the move.

Wolk and Wolff don’t see eye-to-eye, clearly. The experts are divided.

The bottom line is still the bottom line, though. The law of supply-and-demand still rules.

How people are watching is not be as important as what they are watching. Content is king. If people want to see Game of Thrones (above) they will find a way, even if it means cutting the cord — or not cutting the cord, if the cable monopolies have their way.

It’s the programming, stupid, as Moonves famously said 20 years ago, almost to the day.

What’s on Big Bang tonight?
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o.k. good piece
Oct 21, 2015   |  Reply
It's the stupid programming,stupid! As eyeballs wander away from American Idol(a show as responsible for ruining pop music as much as the internet is to blame) but rest at Dancing With The Stars,The Voice,reality shows and prime time quiz shows. Stupid programming trumps script programming dollar for dollar everyday,except it has a short shelflife. With TBS and local syndication,there are possibly 40+ episodes of Big Bang Theory every week around with no DVRing.
I go for scripted fare,espicially when a show reaches that 100 episode threshold for mass consumption. No more getting fooled by new shows trying to get a footing,only to be dropped after two seasons. Now,where is Law & Order marathoning today? Let's see: L&O Classic,SVU or CI? I need a bus! The perp is quickly becoming the skel! Get CSU here to swab down the place till the ME can tell cause of death by the end of the day. And for god's sake,don't let Sam Watterson get his light bulb moment until five minutes left in the show.
Oct 21, 2015   |  Reply
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