“Looking Glass,” Part 2 of our 3 part investigation of
Cable Television in America.
Pirates of Coax.:
1. Pirates of Coax.
2. Looking Glass.
3. Cannon Fire.
Dementia Inducing Soaps. Spectacular Events.
No bill. No choice. Their schedule. Enjoy. They did, until ’81. That year the entire old-line structure creaked. The weight of choice had landed.
On August 1, 1981, Viacom launched MTV. This move proved for the cable teleision industry an immaculate moment, forever marking its’ own New Age. America had been surviving strictly on ad-choked censor-ridden air TV. That over-the-air broadcasting system beamed for everyone. Roof-crowning antennas spread to the skies to pluck this celestial magic from heaven, or Burbank. Inside America’s homes glowed a new electronic campfire, complete with caring honey-dripping “sponsors.” A special shimmering warmth rolled over a prospering bright America.
Broadcasting was seen and sold as “event television.” That was on occasion true, then. Programming lived on soap operas and game shows during work hours. At 5:15 it went national with the news–at first only 15 minutes in length. Prime time offered sit-coms and hour long dramas. Saturday brought enduring shows such as ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” with Howard Cosell. Mohammad Ali’s fights were broadcast live for free–the big ones. ESPN covers nothing from the cutting-edge of boxing. Looking for that now? It’s on pay-per-view for $50.00 per.
Television was magical, a moving window on our vibrant world, our fast-stepping lives. Turning in for ads and for free might mean catching Neil and the moon landing, live from radio-crackling black and white outer space. The nation watched Billie Jean King punish some fugly-talking vitamin gobbler named Bobby Riggs on a tennis court, and television. Billie pounded Bobby in straight sets–over. What did John Mcenroe just say about Serena Williams? “If playing men she would rank 700th.” Total Grand Slams by the numbers: “I’ll let the racket do the talking”–Mcenroe 7, Roger Federer 18, the most for men. Serena Williams has 23, ten since turning 30. Bombs away.
Prime court-side Pirate seating–lower left.
Delivering the Death Pill.
The 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” not enough? Free TV also radiated the hapless nonsense of Evel Knievel, the Harley Davidson famous motorcycle jumper. Jumping for Evel meant yet another reeking ambulance tour of whatever city. And then there was Knievel’s baseball bat beating of his manager/publicist. Such spectacular fare came free of charge, if you could remember to be in place when the show cranked.
The network wars raged. Ad men, men, faced only three TV options, ABC, NBC, CBS. Viewers considered a total of three choices for prime-time, for any time. Nielsen ratings were biblical, telling Americans what they loved. Broadcasters even bowed to Nielsen. Other metrics guide more now. And then there were the censors. “Braking Bad?” Extraordinary. Forget about it. “Lassie.” Being a viewer rivaled living like some household pet. Oh, and no remotes–LBJ had 3, and three sets to go with them. You got what you got end of story. Roll the film back more to see a coarse gray feed of JFK’s cortege on a Washington DC boulevard. That year, 1962, local stations still used a “test pattern” featuring a native American. That ran at 6:00 am for 15 minutes. Fact. Look it up.
Reality TV did not pay the bills nor set the tone. Except game shows, which owned the morning. Broadcasters partied in their power to command viewe rs on schedule. That’s heady stuff–who could blame them? The media industry was producing magic, and released it when they wanted it to be seen.
Broadcasters bathed in the glow of their own shows, and in their unquestioned power to command customer behavior. Life was set, and good. Launch a business model like that now and watch it end as smoking wreckage ricky-tick. That’s a one-way trip Woody. Give it to customers when they request it–no, before they realize they want it–or you’re toast. Waiting for media today is like waiting on a bus. Eighty-five percent of those who can afford not to, won’t.
Stone-blindness to a shattering market can be seen in cable package pricing, the sharpness of price increases–rivaling healthcare, and rigid bundling. No way that lasts. Cable’s main attraction remains confined within an atavistic liner, commercial-riddled, format. Cable providers have for four decades feasted on customers’ willingness to pay for the privilege of first being immobilized and then pimped by blizzards of non-content.
Advertising crept so deep into the mix that it eventually felt like an ad experience, with a little TV drizzled about.
“Sweeps week.” The week networks sell new shows to advertisers.
What a model. Advertisers buy it, and then viewers. They instituted a model featuring the sale of the same product twice, or forever. What if Detroit could literally sell the same car twice, or 140 times? Providers staked out the middle, both hands jammed full of cash and looking for more hands. That’s called intelligent business. Why be paid only once? A few ad-free channels came, and went. TCM’s still around.
So if their product can’t command greater viewership, perhaps cable providers can rely on customer loyalty, based on a strong history of outstanding customer service and support. Not really.
Right. Therein lies cable’s trouble. Increasingly customers are simply saying “we don’t value your products at those prices, or it’s ads, or it’s liner fixed-location form.
How would cable providers rate for overall product quality when compared to Amazon, or the Taliban? Name an American who feels pricing reflects quality in the bloated cable package they shove cash into every month. And then ask how long this particular tension can last, in the face of some increasingly spectacular options.
NFLX, the stock? Our view? Don’t Buy–not at this price. Not without a market wide 3% to 5% down. Called a “correction.”
Netflix remains kind of breath-taking as a company. Their gigantic simmering data ball, industry’s biggest,will continue to guide and grow. Pent-up customer pricing-fatigue, coupled with few customizing choices, are pressuring every seam in the cable biz.
Pirate party cove from above.
Could cable dare to appeal to customer loyalty, in a clawing attempt to retain viewers? No, not in our opinion. Is the concept of customer loyalty antiquated? No. High end retailers feature glittering personalized service to breed-in loyalty. It works. Ask the Ritz-Carlton. Fostering loyalty is foundational for them.
Perhaps many years ago cable could have cherished their customers. But instead many customers feel bled. Perceptions matter. How expensive is disrespect?
Cable represented a revolution in both media delivery, and viewing choice. Denizens of the decaying network model looked into the new light. The ancient network hammerlock on video cracked. On the near horizon sat a monster. VHS. Cable and the video cassette spelled doom for networks power to dictate, and the choking censor cabal. At this point the Japanese would have already begun thinking about the end of cable. Not here. Cable’s enormous and rapid expansion signaled the start of “robbin’ time” for providers. Rob with both hands and forget tomorrow.
Next; Pirates of Coax. Cannon Fire.
Images sourced from Pixabay.