“Big” networks in the midst of technological reform

The what’s what and who’s who:  Media. This word is seemingly abstract and perhaps daunting in that it encompasses a platform through which entire societies escape, or become more connected to, reality. One of the most common sources of media includes television, which in itself contains an abundance of layers and implications. From cord-cutting to greater use of digital platforms, television has rapidly transformed over the past decades. Consumer control has increased, forcing networks to succumb to expectations in fear of losing audiences and ratings.

The traditional television ecosystem includes several big, linear-styled networks that dominate programming with limited consumer choice. According to Guillaume Morel’s “Linear vs. Non-Linear Television” article, a linear system of television is defined as having a schedule, decided unilaterally by someone at the channel headquarters. On the other hand, non-linear television is considered to be more modern, allowing us to choose what time we watch what we want to see. As a result, many consumers are transitioning into the non-linear sphere, drawn by a sense of autonomy that comes with the power of choice and on-demand access to programs.

What’s really happening, and why? National and centralized networks are already witnessing a steady decrease in audiences. In fact, Nielsen reported that over 30% of American households tuned into NBC during primetime in the 1950s, but that figure decreased to only 5.2% in the early 2000s. This decrease is exacerbated by high programming costs, such as an average of $3 million needed to run a one-hour network drama. Thus, networks struggle with charging high advertising rates in the face of declining ratings. Coupled with a competitive television playing field, these challenges accumulate into great levels of uncertainty about sustainability.

A saving grace: It’s easy to overlook local television stations, stereotyped as small players amid the “Big 5” networks. But they may be the key to helping their affiliates stay afloat. The Knight Foundation indicates that here, revenue remains strong, costs are dropping, and the regulatory environment is likely to allow consolidation, which suggests local stations’ strong advantages in the face of the overall ecosystems’s adversity.

Still, though, that may not be enough. More and more, we’ve seen social media play a pivotal role, and it’ll likely become even more useful for local news and non-news programs. As local stations learn to monetize their social media efforts, they might see payoff in terms of reach and increased audience engagement.

What should they do? Despite the potential decrease in traditional, linear television programming, social media will become more than a mere supplementary tool; it will become the backbone to longevity. The possibilities for change are truly endless. The sort of popular addiction to such media opens an array of opportunities for television leaders to infiltrate and advance the programming ecosystem according to profitability and consumer preference. Consumers dictate and act upon their preferences, leaving programmers with no choice but to adapt to demands.