As new technologies and ideas promise to revolutionize television, which stalwarts of the medium stand to be edged out? We put the question to Jeff Cole, director of the Center for the Future at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School. Here's what was on his list:
Independent Producers: Companies such as Carsey-Werner, the team that produced hits such as The Cosby Show and That '70s Show, "are at their lowest point of power in the history of television," Cole says. He points out that since rules preventing broadcasters from owning their programming were lifted in the early 1990s, producers have suffered. "They are now dealing with networks that demand to own the programming, give favor to their own programming, and [produce] less scripted material," he says.
Affiliates: The increase in distribution channels for programmers is not good news for affiliates. With 90 percent of Americans getting their TV signals from satellite or cable, "networks don't need the affiliates as much," Cole notes. Still, he sees the potential for stations to reinvent themselves as local programming hubs: "I don't think they're going to go down quietly, but their role as being indispensable to a network is diminishing."
Loyalty to TV Schedules: With TiVo, Webisodes and DVD rentals, why worry about catching a show the first time it airs? "In another five years, teenagers won't understand the concept of watching TV on someone else's schedule," Cole says.
Commercial Breaks: Cole's research determined that only 10 percent of viewers actually stick around during breaks to watch the ads. "TV ads have been in danger for 30 years, starting with the remote control," he says. The trend will continue, with one exception, for now: must-watch-live events such as the Super Bowl, American Idol and parts of the Olympics. "On traditional television, the spectacle [will become] more important," he says. "The few programs that people want to watch live, and with other people... become more and more valuable on commercial TV."
The Over-50 Demographic: Could a new model of distribution for television mean an attempt to reach beyond the traditionally coveted 18-49 demographic? Don't look for an online-only Matlock: The Next Generation anytime soon. Advertisers have never tried very hard to connect with viewers over 50, and Cole doesn't expect that to change, citing the conventional advertiser wisdom that as people get older, they are less likely to try new products. Still, he says that some advertisers are learning to push the age boundary up to 54 years old. "The over-50s are the wealthiest people in the country right now," he says. "If you believe that you're set in your ways, then where does a Lexus car become popular?"
Cole acknowledges that technological developments in recent years are "causing chaos in the TV industry," but he gives networks credit for trying to stay ahead of their audience and avoid the same pitfalls that befell record labels with the advent of song-swapping. Television executives "don't want to be the music industry," Cole says. "They're not burying their heads in the sand."