The Marketplace Report: Keeping Up with TV Trends

Madeleine Brand talks with Bob Moon of Marketplace about the changing face of paid television. As cable-TV executives meet at their annual trade show in Atlanta, a hot topic is how to keep up with changes in TV-viewing habits, brought on by the Internet and portable viewing devices.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Back now with DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

At the cable television industry's annual trade show this week, a lot of anxiety. Viewers now have other ways to watch TV shows, and they can control what and how they watch them. Cable executives are trying to figure out how to hang onto their audience. Bob Moon joins us now from the MARKETPLACE News Bureau in New York. Hi, Bob.

BOB MOON reporting:

Hi, Madeleine.

BRAND: Well, almost every day, we hear of a new kind of programming or technology coming at us. What is the cable industry up against?

MOON: Well, have you bought a video iPod yet?

BRAND: Not yet. I've been looking at it.

MOON: Maybe you've watched a show on your cell phone. That's one of the other new things. This is just-these are some of the areas that are competing for eyeballs, and, of course, they're competing for our dollars as well. The networks are rushing to put their TV shows online.

Just yesterday, ABC announced it will be offering four of its primetime shows on the web for free starting next month. Those of us with broadband Internet connections will be able to watch Desperate Housewives, Lost, Alias and Commander in Chief at the click of a mouse. Now, at that cable convention in Atlanta, industry executives have been putting a positive spin on this. They say this is really a good thing because it grows the pie of overall viewership, to use their term. ABC says it's not trying to cannibalize its own viewers here.

The interesting things is, though, ABC is putting these shows on the web, and it's selling downloadable programs by way of Apple's iTunes service, but it hasn't yet struck deals with the cable operators to offer its shows on demand by cable. CBS and NBC have signed deals with Comcast. That service will be offering replays of shows for .99 cents. Other cable providers are looking to do the same, so that seems to be the direction they're going.

BRAND: And so how will they hang onto viewers, who just say; no, I'm more interested in taking programming with me?

MOON: Well, they do-as I mentioned, they do plan to offer more of these on-demand programming services. They say that they've had promising results with that kind of marketing. They also might borrow an idea from this new free online venture that ABC just announced. Those shows are supposed to be supported by advertising that you can't skip through, and that kind of offer could start showing up on these on-demand services if you don't want to pay for it yourself.

BRAND: And, Bob, what about programming on the Internet? Is that going to be the focus for some programmers in the future?

MOON: Yeah, that does seem to be the growth area for programming at this point; in fact, here's a sign of the times. The Emmy Awards that are being given out later this month will feature a new category, the envelope, please, for original entertainment programming, created specifically for non-traditional viewing platforms. Six shows have been nominated that were produced specifically...

BRAND: Say that three times fast.

MOON: Right. They were produced specifically for broadband.

Today, in the MARKETPLACE newsroom, we're looking at how taxpayers can get stuck paying the cleanup bills when environmental polluters declare bankruptcy.

BRAND: Bob Moon of public radio's daily business show, MARKETPLACE. Thank you. It's produced by American Public Media.

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