News Articles

Left Coast Bias: Live Together or Die Alone

5/02/2009 02:00:00 AM Eastern

I always love this time of year. Baseball season is kicking into gear, sundresses are back, and my annual trip to Alaska to try to reel in the biggest fish ever hooked by a Jew (halibut, not gefilte) is on the horizon.

And in the TV business, it's the season of good old behind-the-scenes smear campaigns, when broadcast network execs trash everything about the other guys. Talk to any network exec right now, and he will gladly tell you how the competition has crap development, no business model and awful food at their upfront party (well, the ones that still have one).

Anything that anyone says right now is even more agenda-driven than at any time during the year. And what's comical—and ultimately sad—is how wrong each and every one of these agendas is. That's because every breath a network exec wastes trashing the other guys should be used on finding ways to work together.

Sorry, guys. Long gone are the days of fighting over a set amount of eyeballs and cash. Cable, the Web and every other form of home entertainment has made it a free-for-all.

“We sit here and fight with each other on the deck of the Titanic like it's the old days, and it's a joke,” one network chief told me last week.

Instead, the networks should be teaming up to try to keep the ship from sinking. What network television needs is some partnership to tout the power of broadcast television and get everyone focused on trying to pump up the industry as a whole.

Not possible, you say? Take a look at Hulu, the video site launched last year by NBC Universal and News Corp. The fact that NBC and Fox—and now ABC—are offering their programs to be streamed for free demonstrates that everyone can play somewhat nice together and that a little collusion—sorry, lawyers, collaboration—is not beyond the giant egos driving these companies.

CBS should follow. I know they sunk a ton of cash into their own Internet play, snagging CNET and TV.com for a total of $1.8 billion. But everyone has made digital buys they've been struggling to take advantage of (like NBCU's iVillage and News Corp.'s MySpace).

One possible way to work together, and this may sound nuts, is to coordinate the fall launches of new shows across the networks rather than try to blow each other's rookies out of the water. This is the film industry model. (And that sound you just heard was a bunch of network execs spraining their eyeballs from rolling them so hard.)

But in the same way movie studios get out of each other's way for major launches, the networks should give each other a chance to prove they can get more than one hit a year for all the ridiculous amounts of production dollars spent each development season.

Of course, it's upfront season, when advertisers drop billions and basically enable the big networks to live in denial for another year. But with the cratered economy, this year's upfront could finally spring a leak.

And let's face it: When Champagne corks start popping over a 3 rating in the demo for a series launch, it's pretty clear that the party's over. The only way to get the good times rolling again for the broadcast networks is to get everyone dancing to the same beat.

E-mail comments to
ben.grossman@reedbusiness.com

September
October