Tuesday, May 23, 2023

The Death of Cable News?

CNN's latest antics aren't the sign of some new trend, but the last dying gasps of an outdated and outmoded communication medium.

I noted before how over time, various media have become obsolete.  Just in the last few years, print media has all but disappeared  - replaced by the ubiquitous smart phone.  Some "newspapers" have transitioned to this new media, others - particularly small-town newspapers - have died off.  Even the storied Grey Lady and the WaPo are struggling to make ends meet in this new era - laying off reporters and staff and thus cheapening their product and making it even less attractive to readers.

FM radio has been replaced by streaming services - the only thing on FM are automated networks with bland "New Country" or the "[Same Old] Oldies" repeated again and again, in-between blaring commercials for raw deals on used cars. And AM?  Only religious nuts and the La Salsa channel, on that scratchy, buzzy medium.  Radio is dead, period.

Cable television of course, is still around, but its consumer demographic is aging out - dying in fact.  Young people are more likely to use cable as an internet portal - if they have it at all - and are streaming video through televisions sold at Walmart which advertise this feature.  Traditional Cable networks are scrambling to get onto this new streaming format and emulate Netflix - and they are all losing money at it, too.  Even Disney is hemorrhaging cash at this gig.

Funny thing, when people pay for channels à la carte, they choose not to pay for most of those channels.  Cable television costs so much money because if you subscribe, you are paying for the "right to carry" a plethora of channels you never watch.  Sure, things like the shopping network are free, but the cable companies have to pay Fox News and CNN and MSNBC for carrying rights - whether you watch these channels or not.  Fox, in fact, is demanding a huge increase in carrying fees from the cable companies as we speak - they have (or had) a lock on the only steady demographic left for cable - right-wing baby boomers.

It is ironic, as in the early days of cable, the cable companies paid nothing to rebroadcast off-the-air television stations.  And you would think that the broadcast networks would welcome having additional viewers, which would add to their Nielsen ratings and thus increase their ad rates and thus improve their bottom line.  It is a sick and twisted dance, they do, and both broadcast networks and cable companies are pretty odious organizations - something I realized after working in cable litigation many years ago.  Hard to feel sorry for anyone involved, even the viewers.

Our personal "viewing" habits are probably more typical of the younger generation.  We use our poverty WiFi (cellular) hotspot ($25 a month) to stream video from various online "channels" which are either free, or we subscribe to, one at a time, à la carte for one month at a time, maybe every third or fourth month.  So our television watching fees are very low - maybe $30 a year or so.  You can watch the entire season of The Mandalorian in one month and pay for only one month of service.  It's that easy.  And sadly, there isn't much worth watching on Netflix, since it went to an all-soap-opera format.  Actually, all the streaming channels are this way.

Quite frankly, we find ourselves watching less and less television anyway - Mark falls asleep about 15 minutes into a movie, so we never see a whole one.  We have busy lives actually doing things, instead of watching television.  I highly recommend it.

Others, less so.  I noted before that in many houses here on Old People Island, you can drive by in your golf cart and see that all the lights are off, except for the flickering blue glow of televisions at each end of the house.  He's watching Sports or Fox News and screaming at the television set.  She's watching a home show or MSNBC or something. Two people, married for nearly 50 years, living in the same house and yet living apart.   And this is rather common, too.

CNN "made news" the other day, which a news organization isn't supposed to do.  News organizations are supposed to report the news, not make it.  But the baby-faced new CEO of CNN (a registered Newhouse Fag, as we used to call them at SU) is trying to shake things up by giving our deranged ex-President a platform to spew hate speech, conspiracy theories, and outright insurrection.

(What is a "Licht" anyway?  I thought that was some kind of harpy or demon of some sort).

Funny, thing, it didn't work.   It didn't attract the MAGA crowd to CNN, who think the network is either the "Clinton News Network" or the "Communist News Network."  In fact, the few people who watched the "Town Hall" thought that it was Liberals in the audience hootin' and hollerin' for Trump, as if he had convinced even the far-Left of his legitimacy.  Meanwhile, this sort of thing has driven liberal viewers away toward MSNBC.  Younger viewers?  They simply don't exist.

In terms of ratings, CNN is now behind Newsmax, an ultra-right-wing conspiracy-theory channel.  This doesn't mean that America is embracing the far-right, only that television viewers, which are becoming a smaller and smaller demographic, tend to be right-wing nutjobs who hate change ("streaming video?  I don't need that newfangled technology when I've got good old reliable Cable Tee-Vee!  Bring back the carburetor, too!")

Ratings for all cable news channels are down - way downCNN has been the hardest hit, but even Fox News is shedding viewers.  News and Sports are the highest rated shows on cable, but News channels are losing viewers.  Where are they going?  No one watching cable anymore, except old people and the televisions left on in the bars.  It is a dead and dying medium - and a dying viewing demographic.  It is obsolete.  Rather than showing what you want to watch at a time when you want to watch it, Cable TeeVee plays continuously, and you have to adjust your schedule accordingly - unless you want to pay on demand video or dick around with a TiVo type device.

If cable television is a dying media, then what is the "next big thing!" anyway?  That's where it gets tricky.  With the Internet and streaming, anyone can be a "channel" and what ends up being the next big thing is a slippery slope.  It is like trying to shovel water or grab the ether - it is always just slipping out of your hands.  The broadcast model of the 1950's and 1960's locked people into three largely interchangeable networks.  Cable television promised 500 channels of variety, but ended up just giving us more of the same thing, plus shopping channels.   The Internet provides all sorts of weird stuff, sadly, and as a result, provided a megaphone for fringe thinking.  It's the year 2023 and we're now talking about whether the earth is flat and whether Nazism is a good thing or not.  This is regression.

(Prediction:  In the next ten years, one of the cable companies will throw in the towel and go to an all-streaming format.  The bandwidth "wasted" sending 500 channels to viewers who aren't watching any of them could be better used for internet streaming.  It will be a controversial move, but within a few months, every other Cable company - and sat-e-light tee-vee company - will follow suit.  Cable TeeVee as we know it will be dead.)

Cable is dying, and as part of its death throes, it is resulting to more and more extreme thinking, in order to attract these fringe audiences.  The CNN Trump Town Hall wasn't a harbinger of things to come for CNN, but the beginning of its epitaph.

Oddly enough - or not so oddly - I wasn't aware of this "Town Hall" before it aired as we don't have cable television - or even off-the-air television.  I only read about it online, after the fact.  I haven't watched CNN in ages, and even their articles online kind of suck.   CNN was dead to me long before this.

Years ago - maybe 30 years in fact - we got cable as part of an internet "bundle" - they priced the internet service such that it was cheaper to get it bundled with cable.  They were that desperate for viewers even back then.  Mark was excited to try out this new "CNN" thing - they would have 24-hour in-depth reporting!  More than just the 22 minutes of the "Nightly Nooze" that broadcast television provided.

Boy, was he disappointed!  Instead of more and better news, these "24 hour news networks" just barfed-up the same stories again and again, with all these graphics (with whooshing sounds) and scrolling text to make it seem more important than it was.  On Fox, everything was a "Fox News Alert!" - a term that should be limited to runaway freight trains carrying toxic chemicals or impending tornado destruction.

We had it for about a year, gained ten pounds, drained our bank account ordering take-out food, and became depressed.  500 channels and nothing on - and we would surf channels during the ads and end up watching snippets of programs before falling asleep - often to the blue glow of the television.  We were hooked on a drug called cable TV - a drug as bland and unappealing as cigarettes.  So, one day, I said to Mark, "Let's get rid of the television entirely!" and we gave to the TeeVee to a neighbor, who was mystified why we would give away such a valuable thing - and we never looked back.

Years later, we started subscribing to Netflix, when it was a DVD service, and once a week, we'd watch some great classic movie.  It was like a film school education back then - you could screen all the auteurs.  That went away in favor of online content, which thanks to the STARZ contract they signed, had a plethora of movies as well.  But the STARZ contract expired and Netflix reverted to "Netflix Original Content" which is just episodic television, and the whole thing sort of went downhill from there.

So, even streaming has its limitations.  Cable is dead - streaming is not far behind!

Lately, I find myself watching mostly old car videos on YouTube - if I watch at all.  Maybe we'll give away yet another television, again.

Maybe no television is the best option!