Daily Archives: October 1, 2010
In 1980, more than 90% of the viewing audience were tuned to the big three networks at the time, CBS, NBC, and ABC. In 1993, it was around 53%. By 2005, that number fell to 32%. Somehow though, ad revenue for the broadcast networks kept growing. Total TV ad revenue was roughly in 1999 $25 billion and $30 billion in 2003 where it held steady through 2008. So far ad revenue is almost 22% down during the first three quarters of 2009. How did far less viewers fetch more ad revenue for broadcast networks? Easy, by networks changing the rules.
This series needs to be read. These are big, broad lessons here for many businesses.
Shortly after the St. Petersburg Times announced Mr. Smith’s death on its website, a reader posted a comment stating the following: A man who is working as a dishwasher at the Crab Shack at the age of 48 is surely better off dead.
Enter MTM Enterprises (Mary Tyler Moore and Grant Tinker) and Tandem Productions (Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin). Right around the time they emerged as a powerhouse, that’s when the Fin-Syn rules were implemented. Those rules imposed by the FCC in 1970 were meant to protect the Independent Producer from the meddling of the networks. The networks were not allowed to own any of the programming they aired in primetime. The idea was that by allowing the networks to distribute, produce, and exhibit programs that unfairly gave them all the power. These rules were very controversial but did pave the way for a quality revolution of sorts.
In 1993, everything changed when the Fin-Syn rules were eliminated and eventually networks and studios were becoming part of the same corporate umbrella. 20th Century Fox Television already had their new network going to some varied success (Fox), Warner Brothers Television formed their own network, The WB, and Paramount formed their own network as well, UPN. NBC was purchased by GE in 1986 and Universal Studios, including their TV arm, was purchased by GE in 2004 as part of their Vivendi SA Universal Entertainment acquisition. In 2000 Viacom, the owner of Paramount Studios, merged with CBS. Eventually CBS Paramount Television was formed. The last merger happened when Disney, having acquired ABC, launched the Disney-ABC Television group in 2004.
So what’s happening now that studios and networks are all part of one happy family? An increasing number of “in-house” shows. The studios own, finance, and produce the shows and then sell them to their sister network often at a lower license fee knowing that the corporate parent will make out in the end with DVD distribution and syndication. A large percentage of a network’s schedule is now produced by their sister studios. Even that arrangement though isn’t going so well anymore.
There are lessons here for writers looking to free themselves from the yoke of print publishing. But I’m still too distraught over the passing of Stephen J. Cannell to commit to a post. Also, I’ve said the same thing over and over and over again, dammit.
In the late 1980s, the broadcast networks begin to aggressively lobby the Federal Communications Commission to repeal the financial interest and syndication rules. Those rules basically prohibited broadcast networks from owning the shows that they aired on prime time. The rules protected independent producers as well as the major studios who feared that if the networks could own their programming it would be harder for others to get their shows on the air.
The networks successfully argued that the media landscape had changed dramatically since when the rules were created. For starters, the Fox network was born and given a waiver from the rules and cable was just starting to emerge as a force, although at that time it was not the hotbed of original programming that it is today.
Cannell was one of the most prominent producers to speak out against the networks. He warned — accurately, it turned out — that indie producers would be shut out unless they sold out. When the broadcast financial interest and syndication rules, widely known as fin-syn, were relaxed (and eventually gutted), it cleared the way for Disney to buy ABC, Viacom to acquire Paramount and NBC and Universal to merge and most indie producers went away.
Boldfaced emphasis added by me.
Most people don’t understand that there was a real reason behind Stephen J. Cannell disappearing from their TVs.
It wasn’t his choice.
The game had been overthrown, the Christians fed to the lions, the fix was in, and you were either going to be an employee toady to The Man or you couldn’t even set foot in TVLand anymore.
He saw what was happening, and what would happen — as inevitably as the logical conclusion of a syllogism — and he sold his company.
But he was a writer.
He had to write.
And if you think he just swanned into the world of print publishing because he once did TV, you’re out of your freakin mind.
He stated more than once in interviews that none of it was ever a sure thing. And when his first book was picked up and — hallejulah! people liked it and it sold — he was grateful for having the beginnings of a new career.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but TV’s been poorer due to the absence of Stephen J. Cannell.
The next time someone warns you about the power of money crushing creativity — listen, goddammit!
I’m just shocked. A legend has passed.
I had the misfortune to have to be in Manhattan this morning. Misfortune because it was like a monsoon at certain times. Nevertheless, I soldiered on like any good honorary API Operative and got some location photos from two episodes of AMC-TV‘s series Rubicon.
Note that all photos have been resized and resampled to VGA.
Let me begin by putting the API building in its South Street Seaport context: