Big Three in Trouble

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In case you need more evidence on how slow the broadcast-network business is, the Broadcast Cable Financial Management Association is happy to help. The trade group's quarterly report on the Big Three's revenues paints a rather dim picture.

Don't be too horrified by the quarterly report's estimate of a 22% drop in third-quarter revenues, from $2.8 billion last year to $2.2 billion this year. Last year's results were supercharged by the Summer Olympics on NBC. Adjusting for that, the largest broadcast networks' revenues increased 3% during the quarter. Summer and early-fall prime time increased 8% to $1.3 billion, but that was chipped away by declines in late night and news.

A mere 3% is fairly unexciting, given that even the largest basic-cable networks generally grow ad sales at triple that rate. The numbers for the first nine months are worse. Total revenue growth: zero. Prime time is up just 2%. Now you can see why networks are eager to generate new revenue by selling their shows via video-on-demand.

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