I am a new media historian in two ways: my parents timed my birth so I was able to experience the birth of cable TV (I remember when we didn't yet have it but lived in the place where the former Continental Cablevision was born) and other new media in living history, and that those who fail to know history, well, they make mistakes in making predictions. One of my more recent predictions that I use in the university classroom is that local television is in for some serious changes. Granted, the size of the industry and the automatic conservative backlash (or wasted attempts to combat change) will slow down this process more than it otherwise would diffuse.
Think of the local network television affiliate. What do they produce? News. What else? Not much (except commercial production on the side). Cable's ability to damage the local network affiliate has been slow but steady. Networks renegotiated their compensation packages with local stations, cutting down on what they used to pay the local affiliate.
Sine the era of satellite television, television networks have had the theoretical ability to just cut out the middle man, the local TV station, and take its product straight to the viewer. We've seen a different version of this in, for example, sports. Cable networks covering the first rounds of a golf tournament (Thursday and Friday) before the major network takes over. The local TV station could be upset that they were losing exclusivity or they could be happy about the increased publicity generated by coverage elsewhere of the first two rounds.
When the web began, yelevision stations didn't exactly jump all over it. When they did, their friendly, neighborhood network offered to take control of their sites making them generally far more sophisticated. (It was interesting as a baseball fan to watch my favorite team, the Cleveland Indians, went from having a great site (Cleveland is a high city) to one run by Major League Baseball.) What is beginning to happen right now may have the golf analogy or the first nail in the coffin of the local TV network affiliate.
Outrageous, you say? Well, studies show Internet use takes time away from viewing television, especially among younger viewers. It is CBS who shocked the world by announcing that when Katie Couric took over the anchor chair for the CBS Evening News, the newscast would be simulcast on the CBS web site. Is this adding viewers to the newscast without harming traditional local broadcast viewers? Well, this is the research hypothesis:
There is no difference in the viewership of a network newscast and the presence of a simulcast webcast of the same newscast in the same market.
Someone's doing this research right now. I hope it shows up in the public domain. Oh, this post has become so long, I'll start a new one on the crystal ball: the demise of the local TV network affiliate, and how it may arise like a phoenix.
You may use this content (better still, argue with me!), but please cite my ideas as © 2006, Dr. Bruce Klopfenstein. Find any typos! Don't smite me, let me know!