Tuesday, May 22 2007

The Death of American TV

It has come to my attention recently that American TV is doomed.  Doomed, I tell you!  The End is Nigh!!  Repent!!!   Ahem, sorry about that.

Anyways, Ace of Spades HQ posted a list of the proposed Fall TV line-up, and it looks completely horrible.  Not that I watch much on TV anyways, but there's no reason for me to even start up again.  Every so often, someone tells me about some must-see TV show that's "one of the few things good still on TV" and it's never something that sounds interesting enough to watch.

Here are my conclusions based on my observations on the subject:
1.  There is a growing percentage of the American population that is getting disconnected from traditional media such as TV.  It's a group that by and large share traits that make them difficult to represent in surveys.  How do you accurately survey a group that shares a trait that they don't show up in surveys?  You can't, so the trend is going unreported and likely distorting viewership statistics.

2.  The growth of this group is fueled by the decisions of TV network executives.  TV programming is largely being focus-driven to appeal to the largest groups of TV viewers.  Those viewers that do not fall into these groups are left with little to attract them to TV as opposed to other forms of entertainment.  Right now, one of the largest groups of TV viewers are reality show fans.  So all networks started making reality shows.  If you don't like reality shows, there's not much for you to watch.  This means that more of the remaining viewers are reality show fans, and the networks have to compete among reality show fans for viewership.  Therefore they segment down to the groups within reality show viewers, further distorting the market.

3.  Whatever process is used to come up with creative show ideas is failing, so new shows are uninspired.  A show written to appeal to the largest possible audience is likely to not appeal to any of its intended viewers.  The creative minds are trying to insure success by repeating what was successful in the past, however, this is more often a recipe for failure than success.  I also suspect that TV executives that have to approve these shows are not likely fans of any particular genre of TV and hence have to approve shows without much understanding of what actually appeals to most viewers.

4.  The practice of canceling mediocre shows, especially mediocre niche shows in genres such such as sci-fi, is further souring fans on future shows.  Those few niche shows that get greenlighted are likely to be uncreative, written to appeal to a broad audience (and not actually appealing especially well to anyone), and fans who might otherwise be interested are unlikely to invest time on a show that can be canceled even if it is good.

5.  Marketing is subject to the same progressive failure that the creative process is.  In order to advertise that a show is out there, the networks invest in commercials and tie-ins.  Since most of the shows that are hyped end up being mediocre, viewers distrust the marketing.  What do the marketers do?  Step up the marketing.  So marketing gets less and less effective as time goes on even as more and more effort is expended on it.  Word of mouth recommendations would be a way around this, but TV networks have alienated the die-hard fan base by killing shows that had a small but devoted following.

The same problems can be applied to modern movies, with a few additional issues:
6.  Movie studios seem to be unable to determine why a movie succeeded.  Too often, the success is placed on the star or stars on the top of the marquee.  This leads the stars to demand more movies written for them, and more money devoted to hiring the star.

7.  Success is determined entirely by box office intake.  While, yes, in a market this is a good example of success, it's not a necessarily a good way to determine what the next successful movie will be.  Further complicating things is the Hollywood tradition of obfuscating just how much of the money the film made is actually profit.  A movie that makes $100 million may be more successful than a movie that only makes $20 million, but if that $100 million movie costs that much to make and the $20 million picture only cost $10 million to make, the picture isn't looking as good.


Posted by: Civilis at 08: 25 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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