Tuesday, September 6, 2011

TV isn't Dead... It Just Smells Bad!

Just returning from a trip to the USA whereby I spent the last week trying to help out a primary caregiver with my very ill father on hospice. 

It was/is a terrible situation and I hope that you don't have to go through this with any of your parents soon. But many will, so before that, won't you take one minute to take a look at this short message concerning that subject?

While there, I made some observations about television. It wasn't hard to do. I was staying at a household with my now 80-year-old father and his 80-year old live-in partner and caregiver where the TV was on from the first thing in the morning to the last thing, besides the kitchen light, to be turned off at night before bed.

Observing these folks watching TV was painful. The primary caregiver was constantly talking to the TV as if the conversation were all hers (seriously) and my dad was constantly complaining about how idiotic the TV was... Yet, on the TV stayed.... 

The situation with the TV on forever drove me crazy!

That house is, in my opinion, the typical TV household of the year 2011 and beyond. It represents the core of who are TV's main viewers today and it also represents why TV, in its current configuration, is dead. I've written about it before in "Part Two: Why the Digital Conversion Will Kill TV Tokyo and TBS":

These are folks who have seen TV all their lives. The Internet is still a new thing to them. My in-laws are the kinds of folks who turn on the TV when they wake up in the morning and leave it on all day whether they are watching it or not. They are terrestrial TV's prime audience.

Why are these people the typical prime target for a station like TV Tokyo or TBS? Think about it.

Who has the time to sit around and really watch TV for 2 or 3 hours a day, everyday (like people did 30 years ago)? Well, the only people who do have the time to do so are either:

1) Inactive
2) Poor
3) Retired or aged
4) Handicapped or ill

Think about that. Now, if you were a sponsor, would you spend money on TV advertising for people who fit any of the descriptions above? No. You wouldn't.

That's one huge problem for these dinosaur TV stations that have thousands of employees and a dropping revenue base.

This problem is universal. Perhaps countries like India or China haven't (nor will they???) face these challenges... (But I know that in India, people still use 45 rpm records and cassette tapes, so maybe they will someday soon!)

Japan and the USA are in the same boat, though, when it comes to TV. Here are some things I noticed while in the USA that just confirmed and consolidated my opinion on that:

TV in the USA is now playing a defensive strategy that I have seen stations play in Japan. It is a strategy doomed to failure. I have seen this with my own eyes and even argued this point against program directors and station managers as far back as 1998.

The strategy that these stations are trying can't possibly work in the long run. It goes like this: The audience of TV viewers is shrinking. So, instead of pursuing an aggressive policy to reach out to younger people and gather new viewers and a new audience, the stations pursue a defensive strategy to prevent erosion of their current audience (old people). The stations will, instead of making efforts to attract new viewers, will make efforts to keep their old veiwers and prevent them from switching channels to the other competing station (who is pursuing the same policies). This might be fine, but when you realize that your core audience is numbers 1 ~ 4 above, this is not an audience that is growing. This is an audience that is dying off and shrinking.

Now, it doesn't take a genius to realize that this sort of strategy is a sure-fire way to fail. Most promising new business plans attack new, growing markets; not old and shrinking ones.

A good piece of evidence for this is the many FM radio stations that are still playing Bob Seeger, Journey, Foreigner and Steve Miller Band; the same music they were playing 30 years ago! The current sad financial state of today's FM stations - in Japan and the USA - is a testament to the failure of this policy.

My conclusions about network TV in the USA pursuing this policy were reinforced by the commercials I saw. They were very heavily geared to an older audience. One particularly memorable commercial was for a boxed set of DVD's of Shirley Temple movies. Now, I like Shirley Temple as much as the next movie fan (OK, maybe not that much) but for lack of a better description, when I saw the commercial, I thought, "This is not 'cool'!" 

Now, who in the world would want to buy a Shirley Temple boxed set of movies? Anyone under 50-years-old? No? How about under 70? How about 75? 

One of the stations that my ill father and his caregiver watched constantly was ABC. I surmise that their favorite TV show is Good Morning America that has been on since before I moved to Japan in 1984. This show has definitely declined in quality and popularity (I could deduce that by watching shots of the audience). The main host Regis Philbin is retiring so he has good timing. These stations are trying to do anything to pump some life into their lifeless format but it fails miserably. 

It used to be only on late night TV like David Letterman that when the station returned from a TV commercial, would the audience scream and yell while clapping. But now, even on the morning TV shows, they do that. It used to be just polite clapping on morning shows. Now, it's a bunch of people yelping and screaming like a high school sports match or American Idol (which is the intelligence level of this nonsense).

It might have been OK to have these people screaming loudly like a bunch of junior high school kids excepting that one time, on Good Morning America, they foolishly showed the audience and there weren't twenty people standing there. Probably most people don't notice that, but I caught it immediately.

Twenty years ago, it would have been a few hundred people trying to gain their 15 seconds of fame. Now? 

In a related note, as I predicted long ago, many Japanese have turned away from TV. I predicted that the digital conversion would see Japanese TV stations voluntarily throw away 20 ~ 30% of their core audeince. Some people scoffed. I had written in Why the Digital Conversion Will Kill TV Tokyo and TBS:

It seems obvious to me that there's no doubt about it...  Basically:

1) People with money do not watch TV
2) The only people who do watch a lot of TV have either no money or too much time on their hands; they are not active
3) Advertising to people with no money and who are not active is a waste of money.
4) When digital goes online fully, then the only people who don't have the digital equipment are poor people
5) Poor people are the only ones who watch TV Tokyo and TBS now (see #2 above)

The countdown has begun. The digital TV conversion will kill TV Tokyo and TBS.

People aren't scoffing about what I predicted anymore. The TV people are panicking. It has happened and is happening right before your very eyes. The end of an era is upon us. TV, as we have know it for decades, is on its last legs and there is no one in that business (that I have met) who understands he problem enough to fix it. It is too late. The audience is gone.

Japan has lost a huge slice of existing viewers by cutting them off from digitial. They will not return. The USA still has the fashionable senior citizen crowd on Medicaid and Medicare....  

Japanese Are Turning Off the TVs.

Tokyo-- The Japanese, once one of the most TV-addicted people on the planet, are drifting away from the tube -- forcing networks to scramble for other sources of revenue, from pic production, satellite services, Internet streaming sites and other new technologies.
Daily TV viewing time, which averaged more than five hours in the 1970s, shrank to 3 hours and 28 minutes by 2010, according to figures compiled by the NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute.
Males aged 10 to 20 are watching less than two hours a day.
Meanwhile, program ratings have been trending downward for terrestrial networks, pubcaster NHK and commercial rivals TV Asahi, NTV, TBS, Fuji TV and TV Tokyo, despite spikes for major sport events and other special programming.
In June not one show on commercial TV in the 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. "Golden Time" slot won a rating of 10 or above -- once considered the minimum for survival.
Even long-running shows that once seemed immortal have either been axed or are on the brink. One that recently got the heave-ho after 43 seasons is period drama "Mito komon," which bowed in 1969. At its peak, the show's ratings reached as high as 43.7, but recently it has struggled to achieve double digits. Its last episode will air in December on MBS, an affiliate of TBS.
Various causes have been advanced for the ratings slide. Like other countries, Japanese families no longer sit around the TV watching the same show, as viewers did in the industry's 1960-to-1990s heyday. The Japanese now consume entertainment on a range of platforms, including PCs, smartphones and game consoles.
Also, an estimated 100,000 households, including a lot of elderly "Mito komon" fans, failed to make the switch from analog to digital in July, and have effectively given up TV entirely.
But the biggest cause, says Hiro Otaka, a media analyst for the Bunka Tsushin entertainment news services, is that "the programs have become boring."
Otaka blames network execs who have responded to falling ratings by cutting costs and hedging their bets.
There is no media in the world who can survive when the under 30-year-old crowd do not care about it. Can't be done. And under 30-year-old in Japan definitely do not care about TV... Come to think of it, why should they?

TV isn't dead... Yet. It just smells really bad.


Marc Sheffner said...

Your informed comments about the death of tv are probably accurate. As for old people watching it all day, well, I just recall Dr. North's recollection of his father-in-law, RJ Rushdoony. Rushdoony was a prolific reader and writer, who wrote religiously every day of his life. Towards the end, tho, he developed cancer, and that was the only time he watched tv: Dr. North surmised that it acted like a drug to dull the pain.

Andrew Joseph said...

Hey Mike... I watch a lot of TV. I do. But then, I spend all day in front of a computer writing. I spend 3 hours commuting to and from work. I do read during my commute, however - I'm reading The Count of Monte Cristo. While my wife and I do talk, we also spend two hours just looking after our son until he goes to bed... we watch some TV, talk during it, and then she goes to bed... I watch more TV until 11:30, then sit in front of the computer to write my blog, finish and then watch some TV shows I taped. Am I in a rut? Probably... but finances and timing dictate this is what I can do. I can't go out with friends - they're all broke - and so am I! So I hang out with my friends, Gilligan, Barney Miller et al. I watch a lot of sports, but thanks to cranky knees - I can't play much anymore. I'm watching the Seven samurai tonight and The Throne of Blood tomorrow. TV and I are old friends and ex-lovers. Your points are well taken, however. I hate reality TV. I prefer my own reality - such that it is. Oh well... maybe I should read more... but still... sometimes I just need to shut my brain down from being creative all day long... and TV is my drug of choice.

Andrew Joseph said...

Oh... and Mike... glad to have you back.

James A said...


You describing Japanese (and American) TV playing a defensive strategy in targeting senior groups has given me a better understanding of why TV here in Japan just seems so... archaic.

I remember somebody linking me to some Showa-era ads from the 70's and 80's, and one thing that struck me about them was that they wouldn't look out of place at all on Japanese TV today. Just have the girls in the ads smooth out their poofy 80's perms and nobody would be the wiser. The people watching those ads today are the same people who were watching them when Nakasone was PM! The only thing different is the use of CG instead of hand-drawn animation.

James A said...


You describing Japanese (and American) TV playing a defensive strategy in targeting senior groups has given me a better understanding of why TV here in Japan just seems so... archaic.

I remember somebody linking me to some Showa-era ads from the 70's and 80's, and one thing that struck me about them was that they wouldn't look out of place at all on Japanese TV today. Just have the girls in the ads smooth out their poofy 80's perms and nobody would be the wiser. The people watching those ads today are the same people who were watching them when Nakasone was PM! The only thing different is the use of CG instead of hand-drawn animation.

Zanchito said...

Here in Spain we made the digital jump some time ago. While TV is not dying (Internet on demand services are taking part of the audience, though), I'd rather have it dying than watching what it has come to. Lots of reality TV (aimed mostly to housewives and elderly people) and the young are caught with serials (okay) and a kind of fake, base shows consisting primarily of T&A, contempt for culture and denigration of the audience and the participants. We have a show where people voluntarily go and have shameful parts of their past disclosed on public for money. The more shameful the question is, the more money they get.

Also, TV seems to have become worse, technically speaking. Editing, scripts... Some shows are good, but most are really sloppy.

Or maybe I'm just becoming a grouchy old man. The other day I caught myself saying "when I was your age...". Damn.

Steve 'Poots' Candidus said...


Other than me you are the only one that I know that does NOT have a television in their home. For me that includes any and all of the standard broadcast and pay services like cable, satellite dish, U-verse, etc. I believe that you are the same in this regard. NO TV!

I figure that anything that I do is better than watching the mindless barrage of moronic dribble that emanates out of the boob-box.

I don’t understand people’s obsession with grossly overpaid and egocentric athletes, actors and actresses, lying politicians, and a news media that never tells the truth about anything.

Even if they had the mental capacity to know what it was, they would lack the moral courage to actually report it - parasites all. The talking heads of what passes itself off as a news media here in the US is probably the worst of the lot on TV, but you are right about television in general – It ALL STINKS!!!

Sans TV I might use the time that would otherwise be wasted watching ‘the big game’ or ‘Celebrity Dancing’ (or whatever it’s called) to write a letter or a story. I might decide to reach out to friends and relatives by writing and sending them an email. I can read a book, surf the Internet, enjoy a warm afternoon outdoors in the sun or a cool evening under the stars and moon.

Anything that I do, even if it’s nothing, is better than sitting in front of that tube and letting it suck my brains out.

I have a friend that always kids me that although everyone he knows says that when it comes to television that they can take it or leave it, that I am the only one that he knows that actually leaves it. Maybe I should connect you with him, then he will know two of us…

Works for me…


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