New Orleans With the viewing numbers and revenues plummeting at ESPN, investors in the stock market administered a financial butt whipping to media stocks from Disney to Fox, and pundits began asking whether or not “TV is dead,” rephrasing the same question others had posed when church attendance began falling. What’s up with all of this?
It can’t be because it’s summer reruns because darned few television or cable outlets can get away with that anymore. There is so much new viewing product that I read in recent months that there were north of 350 new shows cumulatively on mainline television, cable, and the new competitors like Amazon, Netflix, and the rest. In fact, syndication prices and numbers are going down as well as some of the newer series disappoint in this regard, failing to create the mega-millions for the “Friends” and “Steinfelds” of the recent past.
It might be because television, having bear-hugged reality, or more honestly a kind of faux, wannabe, exotic reality can no longer manufacture an imagination to effectively compete with reality. YouTube viewing is in the billions creating an inestimable array of choices for viewers, especially the young. I still find myself sometimes wondering how younger people figure out how to download so much of this stuff for binge viewing as they see fit. Livestreaming, I get fully, but both have untethered people from the television screen, opened up the computer and mobile phones, and made much of television bricks and sticks.
Maybe part of the problem is that not only does television seem to live and die for the young male eyeballs and the hopes that they will buy the ads fueling their business model, but women may be deserting television as well. Movies are hurting too, except for ones that appeal to women directly, and it seems for good reason. A recent University of Southern California study of the top 700 popular films between 2007 and 2014 found that women only made up 30.2% of all speaking or named characters. 73.1% were white, 19.9% of female characters were between 40 and 64. Only 1.9% were directed by women. Women in the famous Chinese slogan “hold up half the world,” but no one would know it from most of television. And to the degree there most of the women on the screen are young, see the appeal to young men above, there’s competition there as well because the internet is not only driven by technology, but also porn. The conservative Indian national government defied a Supreme Court order in that country by shutting down almost 900 porn sites. 900 porn sites in India, who knew? The scale of all of this must be virtually unfathomable.
All of which would either drive people, or leave people, looking for other choices and this is a time in which there are an abundance, almost an overabundance, of choices. Most studies that I have seen indicate that screen time is up when televisions, computers, and mobile phones are all counted, but television time itself is down. It may be that there’s nothing wrong with television, but everything right with choice, and the more choices people have, then the more they are going to go for what they really like and the reality they choose.
And, come to think of it, that is very bad news for television.