Just as NBC hopes to capture the “Christian” TV-watching market with Revelations, Viacom and Comcast are hoping to attract the gay and lesbian demographic with their own cable channels, Logo and here! Comcast is making here! available as a “video-on-demand” pay channel, but Viacom is adding Logo to its “basic channel” offering. This means that if Viacom is your current cable provider and your local system decides to carry it, you will see Logo added as a new channel on June 30.
Ever since the Telecommunications Act of 1996 threw all media up for grabs, the television industry—and cable in particular—has been fragmenting its audience based on perceived demographics. On any given night, I have over 60 TV channels available to me for my viewing (pleasure). However, almost without fail, I end up watching one of the major network offerings (NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX). Why is this? Is it because the majors can do a better job of meeting my heterosexual, white, Anglo-Saxon (with a sprinkling of Cherokee, just like Ward Churchill), protestant with four homeschooled kids and a half-acre yard in the suburbs of a major metropolitan city needs? I can assure you that this is not the case. Network executives in New York and LA do not “get” me or my demographic. So why doesn’t this drive me to HWAS(sC)P4HSK1/2ASMMC TV? Because they don’t “get me” either.
America has quickly become a nation of close to 300 million individuals. What used to be a shared experience not too many years ago has now become individualized. People used to watch the same programs, listen to the same radio station and read the same newspaper. Aside from the monopoly of information issues that this presented, it at least gave everyone in a neighborhood, community or city a common ground on which to discuss things and relate to each other. Except for a few notable exceptions, my neighbors and I watch, listen to and read nothing in common. We have become a society of individuals with no uniting experiences.
I mentioned a “few notable examples.” The new breed of reality shows such as American Idol, Extreme Home Makeover, and The Apprentice are quickly becoming somewhat shared experiences. Even though they can only, at best, claim a quarter of the TVs in the country, this is still huge—about 25 million TVs. What makes these shows more successful than their cable counterparts? Content. They are compelling shows that attract people from all walks of life, not just a certain “demographic.” More people watching means more advertising revenue, and more advertising revenue means higher quality programming (theoretically). Why is advertising during the Super Bowl so expensive? Because the captive audience is so large that the advertisers will pay huge sums to get at them. This also causes the quality of the ads to be raised because everyone is bringing their “best and brightest” for this media spectacle. The Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” two years ago was tame compared to what you can see on other cable channels at any hour of the day, but since the audience for the Super Bowl cuts across all demographics, the industry quickly self-regulated to make sure that this doesn’t happen again… and this is as it should be.
It is time for Burbank to take a lesson from Hollywood. The highest grossing films of all-time are not R-rated slasher and sex films. They are mostly PG-rated films that unite audiences, instead of dividing them. The more fragmented you make your audience, the less success you will have. People don’t watch television simply to reaffirm their lifestyle, they watch because they enjoy the stories that are being told. TV producers need to re-learn the point that bigger audiences make better programming. It then becomes a win-win for all involved. Advertising still makes or breaks television programming and advertisers want the largest audience that they can get for their money. This model is still in effect for the major networks; they don’t have the luxury of competing for a certain demographic. And this is why they still have the best programming to offer, although there is still much room for improvement. Americans need to vote with their remotes…the advertisers will listen.