Where will TV's new jobs come from?


I just got back from the annual convention of the National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) and this year I found the tone far different than last. Last year at this time, people were demoralized, depressed and a little hopeless. Jobs in the TV industry were disappearing at an alarming rate, and there seemed to be no sign of respite. The advertising market had collapsed and executives were wondering how many TV stations would be forced out of business.

This year, the economy was still very much on everyone’s mind, but their tone had changed. Optimism has crept in. Spending opportunities loom. The Super Bowl, the Olympics, the Academy Awards and mid-term elections await, and station execs all expect auto to come back — at least in part — this year. All of that portends improvement for broadcasters.

Still, that doesn’t mean the jobs picture looks much better, and it’s what most needs to change in order for any recovery to feel real.

In last night’s State of the Union address, the lack of jobs were the first issue on President Obama’s list, even before such salient topics as bank and healthcare reform.

Obama proposed several Congressional efforts that could brighten the U.S. job picture: making available $30 billion – taken from the money that Wall Street banks have returned to the U.S. Treasury – to community banks to loan to small businesses in need. Obama also proposed a tax credit for small businesses who want to hire new workers or raise wages. And he suggested eliminating capital gains taxes on all small business investment, while providing a tax incentive for all business to invest in new plants and equipment.

He also continued to encourage his green-energy agenda, proposing tax rebates for Americans who make their homes more efficient. And he pushed businesses to hire at home, proposing tax breaks to that end.

A bill that incorporates some of these ideas exists in the House, Obama said, and he urged the Senate to take up that bill.

“People are out of work.  They’re hurting.  They need our help.  And I want a jobs bill on my desk without delay,” he said.

Meanwhile, the New York Times depressingly reported today that “one major obstacle” to the goal of adding jobs to the U.S. economy is that “many of the jobs slashed during this recession are not coming back.” Somewhat like Jeff Gaspin now famously referred to the upcoming Winter Olympics, this recession may have served as a “cleansing moment” for many companies, who now have learned that they can operate just fine, thank you, without all those pesky FTEs wanting vacation pay and health benefits and 401Ks.

“[M]any of the Americans who are already out of work are likely to stay in that miserable state for a long, long time,” reports the Times. “And the longer they stay unemployed, the harder it will be for them to transition back into the work force, further fueling America’s growing underclass.”

Ok, so any economic enthusiasm I was feeling at NATPE has been somewhat quashed. However, there is this: “Almost half of digital and direct marketers will be hiring this quarter, according to a new survey from Bernhart Associates,” reports MediaBistro’s MediaJobsDaily. That report goes on to say, “and only 26 percent of survey respondents are reporting hiring freezes, down from 45 percent last quarter.”

I’m also led to reflect on Elisabeth Murdoch’s enlightening (and lightening quick – that woman talks almost as fast as I do!) speech at NATPE, in which she called social media the key to media’s upcoming success. It was a bold statement – something a few people have been willing to poke around the edges on, but nothing anyone has been willing to call an economic necessity and then describe so thoroughly why that is so. I now know which Murdoch child my money’s on when it comes time to hand over the reins of News Corp.

After Murdoch’s speech, a dear friend of mine remarked, “hmmm, I might have to retire. I’m not sure I’m up to keeping up with all of this.”

I hope that’s not the case, but I do think he has a point: right now, it’s out with the old and in with the new, out with analog and in with digital. If you can’t keep up – broadcasters, I’m talking to you — it may be out with you.