Letter From The Staff: Seven-Year Itch

Not long ago, a network chief was reveling in a ratings performance that was his network’s best since 2007 when he suddenly paused to consider that seven-year interval. He told B&C he couldn’t help but be distracted from the ratings win by the realization of just how much our world has changed during those years. In 2007, Facebook had just opened up to the masses, Twitter was barely out of beta, the disc-peddlers at Netflix were introducing a streaming video service and Apple was unveiling a pocket-sized device called the iPhone. “That was just seven years ago!” the executive marveled.

The pace of change in the TV business has indeed been remarkable, and plenty of others like the aforementioned exec are taking stock. During B&C and Multichannel News’ inaugural The Content Show at NYC Television Week last November, GroupM Entertainment CEO Peter Tortorici pointed out the stark differences between all this change and the relative consistency of past decades. The industry veteran likened the business today to a roller coaster—and one that he views as “off the rails.”

One certainty for 2015 and beyond is that we are in for more twists and turns. The thrill ride, to extend Tortorici’s metaphor, will be filled perhaps more than ever with highs, lows, changes and sharp-curve surprises due to new factors and endeavors we couldn’t have even imagined a few years back.

Indulge us for a moment: When you take our annual News Quiz, in addition to marking your answers, ask yourself how many of the important events of 2014 you actually could have predicted.

In a word, our business is mobile, literally and figuratively. As in, on the move.

In the literal sense, Comcast Cable’s Matthew Strauss told George Winslow for his CES preview that, “A TV is now a piece of glass … When you approach it that way, a computer, a laptop, a mobile device, a tablet becomes a TV.”

That redefinition has implications for the ad equation, Jon Lafayette finds in his Currency preview. Analyst Michael Nathanson of MoffettNathanson Research tells Lafayette that several factors are contributing to weak ad results, including measurement issues fueling “shockingly bad ratings.” Plus, “the shift to digital platforms is taking share out of TV budgets.”

Tim Baysinger determined that streaming strategy is also squarely center stage for news and sports decision-makers. And programmers, too, are figuratively on the move. As Daniel Holloway writes in his programming preview, they are constantly changing their approach to development and may see a return to the pilot process.

One of TV’s stalwart franchises, 25-yearold America’s Funniest Home Videos, could very well see an Internet star take over hosting duties from Tom Bergeron. Creator Vin Di Bona told B&C that while Bergeron is irreplaceable, the next era for the show will need to resonate with younger audiences. He jokingly affirmed the new host won’t be Justin Bieber—but perhaps with not all that many degrees of separation.

Even the regulatory definition of TV is transforming. John Eggerton’s Washington preview highlights the ongoing FCC discussion about classifying linear over-the-top video providers as multichannel video programming distributors, a debate playing out against the backdrop of a newly Republican-controlled Congress.

The role of TV in society and culture, too, is “moving,” with the proliferation of mobile video capabilities and rapid sophistication of social media. Nationwide demonstrations sparked last year by the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner on Staten sland have gained potency from the power to capture and communicate information and moving pictures.

Video images, moving pictures, or whatever you wish to call it (good ol’ TV works for us) is evolving but also growing every day. Still, like Tortorici’s roller coaster, it can be scary. As he put it, the business “makes you want to scream, sometimes makes you want to throw up,” but it’s “never boring.”

That last sentiment is crucial. A healthy appreciation for how never-boring it can be will help anyone in the TV industry stay on top of all this change. Given how Rumsfeld-ian it has gotten—most of what we know is that we don’t know what we don’t know—here is a parting recommendation. Just consider our four-point plan for 2015:
1) Go ahead and throw your hands in the air every so often when it gets really, er, exciting. It’s cathartic.
2) Remember that while some of the curves may feel familiar, don’t be surprised that there will be surprises.
3) Savor the moments when you’re at the top.
4) Finally, just remember, there’s always another rise around that sharp curve ready to carry you up and out of the valley.