Former TV station executive Kevin Mirek says TV stations are making a big mistake by diverting precious resources into the Web — a medium that gets a tiny fraction of the viewing that traditional TV does. Says Mirek: “Internet viewing is still hung-up in small screens, pixelization, downloading-time agony, out-of-synch audio/video and poor picture quality.”
Nearly everyone in broadcast TV will agree that these are tough economic times. Stations are downsizing staffs, general managers are shrinking their news commitments and owners are declaring bankruptcies in unprecedented numbers. The once mighty, like Tribune, have been humbled by this economic downturn that has TV broadcasters looking at double-digit negative revenues for 2009 and possibly beyond.
What some find amazing in this year of hunker-down-and-tough-it-out TV leadership is the notion that TV stations somehow need to be spending considerable resources on their own Internet sites and serving up, for free, their best news and entertainment content to a hostile competitive medium.
Every day we read or hear of Internet chieftains declaring that TV must restructure itself to become more Internet intensive or warning that TV is going to lose out if it doesn’t put more resources into Internet and mobile. What else would we expect to hear from the Internet industry that creates no viable video content, that pirates 90 percent of its offerings from sleeping TV owners and that intends to replace TV in the end?
But were all recently treated to the true video usage landscape. Nielsen published its A2/M2 (Anywhere Anytime/Media Measurement) Three Screen Report. The study found that the average American watches 153 hours of TV each month. By contrast, the 131 million Americans who watch video on the Internet watch an average of three hour of video online each month and the 13.4 million who watch video on mobile devices watch an average of 3.5 hours of mobile video each month.
Simply put, three-screen Americans watch 50 times more video on traditional TV than they do on the Internet or on mobile phones. That’s not hard to imagine. Imagine, “C’mon gang, let’s sit on the sofa and watch American Idol on an IPhone.”
People buy big flat-screen TVs because it’s a better viewing experience. Internet viewing is still hung-up in small screens, pixelization, downloading time agony, out-of-synch audio/video and poor picture quality.
So why, with relatively no one watching video on computers or mobile compared to TV, with computer-projected video so substandard, and with no revenue to show for their efforts, do TV owners and executives continue to pour vast amounts of time, money and very valuable content into a hostile competitive medium? That doesn’t seem like a very good business decision.
Forty years ago, Joan Didion observed that the Diamond Lane on the Santa Monica Freeway reserved something like 20 percent of the highway for 2 percent of the vehicles, so highway geniuses could stimulate carpooling. It did not work then, and it still does not work. Likewise, TV stations pouring major funding and content into a competitive medium that yields only 2 percent of the station’s revenue seems equally absurd.
If people want to watch CSI, NCIS, Nightly News, local news or other local programming, broadcasters should make them watch on their stations. That may involve renegotiations with networks and syndicators that mostly rely on the affiliates to deliver the 153 hours per month of the average American’s video viewing.
If people want research, real estate listings, stock quotes, homemade jackass videos or porn, they can go to the Internet.
TV has a real monopoly, and the present owners are giving it away.
Whenever an Internet guru refers to Internet video platforms, the image that comes to mind is that of a bamboo raft drifting aimlessly in the same waters as TV’s aircraft carrier. The impoverished skipper of the raft is saying to the aircraft carrier commander, “You better share your weapons with us for free, or some day we will destroy you.” The aircraft commander is saying, “Uh, okay, I don’t want to be left behind.”
Perhaps TV ownership and management need some perspective. Perhaps they need a business degree.
Kevin Mirek is a former TV station management and sales executive. Most recently, he served as group director of sales for Equity Broadcasting Corp. He can be contacted at [email protected]