Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Network TV: Slow Learner

You are a brand-name known the world around, and have the largest segment of the market for your product. Do you: 1) do nothing; 2) continue to advertise it; or 3) change it.

I’m talking about Coca-Cola and you know what they did in 1985, and how it worked out. “New Coke” was a total flop. It doesn’t take a Harvard Business School study to tell you the correct answer is 2.

You’d think the brain trust at NBC would have heard about that lesson, when they decided to move Jay Leno to 9 PM. The affiliates knew almost immediately that it would be a flop, and asked the NBC brass why they were tinkering with the most highly-rated 10:35 PM show on the air, which also was the #1 revenue-generator.

But nobody listened to the affiliates, and now, we know what happened. Again.
And who broke the news about Leno’s move from prime-time back to “late-night”? TMZ. Again. It’s worth noting that while print and broadcasting were gutting their newsrooms to try and stay afloat, a Los Angeles lawyer - Harvey Levin - started TMZ because he saw a trend developing.

Media execs think they can predict the future. They can’t, and they’ve never learned that. Media execs, whether you’re talking about the head of the programming for a big TV network, or the program director of a local radio station, too often think they are “trend-setters”.

Perhaps they should work harder on trend-spotting.

Another case in point: Arianna Huffington, who saw how the news business was shooting itself in the foot by cutting newsroom staff, and launched her news website, Huffington Post, which now reaches millions of readers every day.

As media guru Jerry Del Colliano says, “the future occurs in the present and is not predictable in any way, shape or form. The only thing that is predictable is that any fool who sees the future and takes his or her eyes off the consumer will lose”.

NBC’s vision for the future was that Leno would soon be too old to pull in the attractive younger demographics, so they cut programming costs, put him in on at 9, and hoped Conan O’Brien would be the charm.

Not so much.

Now, O’Brien’s future with NBC is very much in doubt, and in a few weeks we’ll get half an hour of Leno at 10:35, just about enough time for his monologue and one guest. Who knows? Maybe a month after that, Leno will be back doing a full show at 10:35, and O’Brien will be on Fox or ABC.

Newspapers and broadcasters used to know how to please audiences. Now, by and large those media are driven by bean-counters and deal-makers whose goal has nothing to do with attracting and holding an audience.

It’s a shame, because they used to be pretty good at it. Now - well, you’re looking at one version of the future, right here on this blog.

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