In this week's cover story, we asked the 11 media moguls being inducted into the 2009 Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame to tell us what they learned this year that will inform their decision-making in 2010. The answers paint a picture of how these leaders of industry coped with a challenging 2009 and are preparing to face whatever comes next.
The question is an important one for all of us to consider. And while I am far from Hall of Fame material—unless someone starts to recognize short, bald, angry Jews from Minnesota—what follows is a handful of things I see coming in 2010 based on the ups and downs we learned from in 2009.
AUDIENCES WILL BE OVERCOME WITH GLEE. While rookies like CBS's NCIS: Los Angeles have gotten the early headlines, Fox's Glee will be the breakout freshman hit of the fall when the book is written on the 2009-10 season. The show has the rare ability to get both kids and their parents watching, even—gasp!—together.
The story lines have yet to catch up with the stellar casting and great musical numbers, but there is time. Well, there is until January. That's when American Idol will come back and take Glee from solid performer to breakout hit, as you can't get two shows with more compatible audiences. When that Glee cast performs on Idol for the first time, watch the show take off.
JOURNALISM WILL REBOUND. Maybe I am being optimistic, but 2009 was as bad a year for the journalism industry as I can remember, so here's hoping. Head count took a bloodbath, budgets were hammered, and major brands disappeared or were weakened to the point of no return.
And the tone of journalism in general wasn't much better. Report first and fact-check later became way too prevalent, with blogging and the up-to-the-second news cycle putting too much emphasis on speed over accuracy. (“The kid is on the balloon. Wait, no he wasn't.”) To make matters worse, opinion-based “journalism” has seemingly left good, old-fashioned objectivity in its wake on too many outlets.
Much like the economy, the hope is that all of this has bottomed out, with the pendulum set to swing at least a little bit back toward a more responsible brand of work. If there is any good news from this, it is that the journalism entities that remain can hopefully stand out even more for their quality amongst all the silly blogs and faux news organizations that pop up every day.
I saw a headline online recently that wondered, “Why Journalists Don't Drink Like They Used To.” It's hard to tell if that's the cause of all the problems, or the effect.
NATIONALS WILL GO LOCAL. The perceived weakness of local stations and newspapers will give birth to more national brands looking to swoop in. ESPN is already invading multiple cities, and others are following. I've suggested before in this space that CNN is the logical brand to exploit this opportunity with a strategy that could begin with a series of local Websites and then build up from there. CNN chief Jon Klein told me it “could make sense one day.” But it seems the time for CNN or others is now, especially with political money set to come into play in 2010.
HERE COME THE NETWORK COMEDIES. This one is easy to foresee. If you have worked in or around the television business for longer than five minutes, you know that if anything remotely works, everyone sprints to copy it immediately. And with the network sitcom genre showing an increased pulse this fall—from the ABC rookies to the exploding Big Bang Theory on CBS—look for the nets to hurl themselves back into the half-hour comedy world with reckless abandon.
EXPECT A WAVE OF CONSOLIDATION. From major moves like a possible NBC Universal ownership change, to individuals or companies rolling related blogs and Websites into a pseudo-online network, the easing of the credit freeze and a bit of optimism in the marketplace will open up the M&A market.
Gossip about NBCU, Scripps and the Travel Channel makes for great fantasy football, but it also must serve as a reminder about the perils that can come from mixing two corporate cultures—not to mention the questionable results for shareholders. There is a reason Jeff Bewkes said recently that he is happy to sit back and watch his competitors do things like buy NBC Universal. Of course, that could mean he is busy shopping for something else.
PAY WALLS WILL BE ALL THE RAGE. One of the hottest debates going right now wonders if giving away high-quality content for free is a viable model, whether that content is from a newsgathering operation or a television network's primetime lineup. As “authentication” has become a buzzword, expect “hybrid” and “freemium” to join your vernacular as Websites begin to charge for certain content and keep other pages free.
Hulu will institute a pay model, as it should. You want the TV and journalism models to keep collapsing on themselves? Keep giving away high-quality, expensive content.
TWITTER, TOO, SHALL PASS. I teach a media-related class in a business program at UCLA, and of my 30 students, exactly two say they are on Twitter at least once a day. This little craze will last the time equivalent of 140 characters, and then fly away.
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