Network TV: “I’m not dead yet”

Chairman of C-Suite Network, former Bloomberg contributor and one-time guest judge on Celebrity Apprentice (with you-know-who), Jeffrey Hayzlett says the key to keeping network television alive is to adapt and change. Or else.

By Jeffrey Hayzlett

hayzlett

At a recent conference, Netflix Co-Founder & CEO Reed Hastings said, “The beauty of the Internet is that it can be personal.” In the same speech, Reed went on to predict that over the next twenty years we will continue to see drastic changes in the television industry. Then in November, producer Chuck Lorre declared that network television was dead on the vanity card at the end of a Big Bang Theory episode (“R.I.P. Network Television: 1948-2015.” —Chuck Lorre, Vanity Card The Big Bang Theory 11/2015). The brash statement was in response to CBS announcing new streaming options for viewers. While I’m not ready to put the final nail in the network’s coffin yet, these statements did get the businessman in me thinking. If network TV really is dead, what does the future of the television industry look like?

As the founder of C-Suite TV, a digital business television network, I do whole-heartedly believe the future of TV is online and that some of today’s largest players will get lost in the shuffle, because they won’t adapt fast enough. I have advised businesses of all sizes for years and my first lesson is always to adapt, change or die. TV is no different.

The dilemma is not whether or not to go digital – that argument is over and it’s been won. Go digital! The question now is how do we make money? How do we adjust decades old advertising plans or prevent pirating? These changes have been happening in other industries for a long time, but can the TV industry adapt?

According to analysts who spoke to the Hollywood Reporter, the first step is to stop licensing content to outlets like Netflix and Amazon Prime. While some executives see this as a fast and easy way to make money, others say it will lead to problems in the future. Time Warner CEO Jeffrey Bewkes said he was “evaluating whether to retain our rights for a longer period of time and forego or delay certain content licensing.” While Disney CEO Robert Iger stated that he would remain flexible with providers but would evaluate for long-term damage.

However, analyst Todd Juenger of Bernstein & Co. suggests the industry needs to look towards the future and adapt faster. “Dig deeper,” say these analysts, and it’s clear that ad dollars are flowing away from TV and toward digital platforms, even as the biggest over-the-top platforms remain ad-free. Digital video has a 4.3 percent ad-spending share today, and it will grow to 5.9 percent in 2017, according to eMarketer, while TV shrinks from 40.5 percent to 38.5 percent in 2017.

When I look at these stats I’m reminded of a company I visited on my TV show The C-Suite with Jeffrey Hayzlett - Cadillac. Sometimes brands die, even iconic brands. It doesn’t do any good to point fingers, make excuses, or shut the door and pretend things are okay. If it’s over, it’s over. But Cadillac wasn’t dead yet, they were just on life-support. By the 21st century, anyone under 40 thought the Cadillac brand was for old people. Sound familiar?

Cadillac learned that they had lost touch with what the people really wanted or needed from a 21st century automobile company. Cadillac did eventually turn the brand around and get their mojo back. I don’t know that network TV is on life-support quite yet, but we’re getting dangerously close. So I challenge the industry to adapt, change or die because there will be plenty of people waiting in the wings to take your spot.

Here are a few tips Cadillac can teach the TV industry:

Avoid Course Correcting to Oblivion

Ask yourself, “What the hell are we doing and why are we doing it that way?”

Work to Overcome Perceptions and Expand Your Audience

In marriage it’s nice to grow old together, but not in business. Cadillac had an audience it literally rode to death. You must constantly seek a younger audience. Will you alienate some older audiences? Maybe, but plenty of them will adapt with you.

“The Truth is Out There”

The longer you have been successful doing what you do, the more you have to work to avoid tunnel vision.

My advice is, don’t dismiss the television industry entirely. There’s no need to RSVP to that funeral quite just yet. As we enter awards season, you don’t have to look far to notice the changes – Amazon’s Transparent, Netflix’s  Orange is the New Black  and House of Cards are still the rage, but network TV is still a viable way to get your message across. Just don’t let it be the only way you’re getting your message across. But digital is here and it’s a fad, either, so remember: “adapt, change, or die!”

The Cynsiders column is a platform for industry leaders to reach out to colleagues, followers, and the public at large. In their own words and in targeted Q&As, columnists address breaking news, issues of the day, and the larger changes going on in the ever-evolving world of television, video and digital. Cynsiders columns live on Cynopsis’ main page and are promoted across all daily newsletters. We welcome readers’ comments, queries, and column ideas at Lynn@Cynopsis.com.

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