Oppression by Surfeit

mindcontrol Highly interesting report today by Ad Age reporter Jeanine Poggi.  Poggi discloses some important aspects of how the big business marketing endeavor known as “television” functions.  Turns out one of the major devices there is refusal to permit what’s called “a la carte” TV subscriptions.

The basic problem is this:

A significant amount of TV viewing comes from casual viewers watching channels that are available to them, but that they likely wouldn’t want otherwise. Networks that fall outside of the top tier include independents like ReelzChannel and Ovation, as well as networks owned by conglomerates like Viacom‘s Centric and Discovery Communications‘ Velocity and the Military Channel.

If people could subscribe to plans of their own choosing, the channels that draw this excess viewing would be dropped and disappear, meaning that the price of ads on channels people actually want would increase, while — horror of horrors! — people might actually watch less television.

Poggi quotes an insider with an utterly exquisite surname:

“If people watch the same amount of TV, only getting channels they want, the supply of ratings points would remain constant for the most part,” Mr. Parent echoed.

But Mr. Parent doesn’t believe the same amount of content would be consumed on TV. “There would be less casual viewing and a drop somewhat in surfing,” he said. “It might drive some people online to watch certain shows. If out of the 10 networks there’s nothing on you want to watch, you will turn it off.”

This, of course, cannot be permitted:

[M]edia buyers are skeptical the industry will ever allow consumers to cherrypick individual networks.

TV networks are staunchly against the idea, fearing consumers wouldn’t pay for their smaller networks like MTV Jams or Cloo and might even blow a hole in revenue for midsize players.

But advertisers could also suffer if cable bundles break up and smaller channels thin in number, which would send more viewers to the bigger networks and drive up prices of reaching a mass audience.

This openly secret core aspect of institutional reality is, as always, a sharp disproof of the #1 alleged reason for allowing private business to run the media environment: “We give people what they want.”

4 Replies to “Oppression by Surfeit”

  1. First, I’m glad that posting is up lately.
    Second, that’s an exquisite piece of the puzzle indeed.

    It seems that similar process operates online, thanks to Facebook and other types of aggregators:

    The “spreadability” of articles is key consideration in content production these days, and there is reliance on the social networks to accomplish part of that. So, when a person is logged onto FB (and people do spend a lot of time there casually), inevitably they are exposed to a stream of crap they would not see or seek otherwise, but now, thanks to their ‘friends’ it is in their face.

    Since the content is *explicitly designed* to draw attention by reliance on catchy headlines, crazy stories, wild speculations – really, anything goes to generate traffic – if you hang out long enough on FB, you are bound to see/click on something you would not seek yourself. Same principle: lots of players trying to drive traffic to their shitty content farms, chasing advertising pennies. (And of course it is a continuous race to the bottom, since content needs to become ever more shocking/emotional to drive clicks… – and once you get there in 99% of the cases you find a contrived non-story, and of course, a lot of advertising banners.)

    (And this is the main reason why I personally deleted all my social media accounts. I might subscribe to a paper copy of the NYTimes if I begin to feel that I absolutely must have some semblance of ‘the news’, but otherwise, the quality of my life has improved a lot. )

  2. PS ‘similar’ of course, not meaning ‘almost the same’ – a lot of the social media garbage is user generated/proliferated, but even there, as some studies of ‘virality’ have already established, things that ultimately go viral most often are still promoted by key content sources; virtually nothing goes ‘viral’ on its own without passing the gatekeepers.

    still, the analogy is probably somewhat useful – what better way to negate the ‘original promise’ (eh..) of the internet, namely the ability to pick and find what you really care about without intermediaries? Corral the users in a handful of key places on the web, and you have a captive audience not that different from what you have in the TV situation – lots of page impressions that would not happen if users were forced to navigate it with no “help”.

Comments are closed.