There have been some shadows threatening the bright lights of the TV industry lately.
For the networks, plunging profits, and for the most part reduced ratings have led some media analysts to question broadcast’s business model, with some suggesting the networks “go cable” so they can benefit from the dual-revenue stream of ad sales and subscriber fees.
Others fret that we, or at least our kids, just might simply be watching too much of it, especially after last week’s Kaiser study reported that the average 8- to 18-year-old spends seven and a half hours a day in front of some sort of screen. And due to multitasking, those seven and a half hours envelop 11 hours of media into that time span.
And those screens so closely scrutinized may soon be buried under a political advertising avalanche from corporations and unions after Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling on political spending.
As for the content squeezed between those ads, it can be as hard-hitting as political attack ads. Literally in the case of the brawling beachgoers on MTV’s “Jersey Shore,” which had its season finale last Thursday, and figuratively in the case of “The Tonight Show,” which ended its Conan O’Brien era Friday, capping a nasty on-air feud spanning three networks and four hosts.
But the shadows dissipated, if not disappeared, over the weekend with big audiences for the small screen.
Ratings for the national pastime, NFL football (sorry, baseball purists), are in. It may have been the Saints in a squeaker, but it was Fox in a blowout Sunday night, as the NFC Championship Game had an average audience of 57.9 million. This made it the highest-rated since the Dallas Cowboys-San Francisco 49ers game sent the ‘Niners into the Super Bowl. But that happened in 1982, which in TV terms was B.C. (before cable and before computers, which created so many other options).
But that was nothing compared to the compassion – and ratings – displayed during the “Hope for Haiti Now” telethon. New Nielsen data estimates that 83 million Americans tuned into at least a portion of the telecast.
More importantly, viewers donated over $57 million dollars for relief and recovery efforts.
TV, like any other medium, it just a tool. It’s what’s done with it that matters, both socially and financially. At least for the time being, there’s nothing that compelling content can’t fix, be it the media model or, at least in some small way, the far more important challenge of earthquake relief.