Nick Leshi

Nick Leshi
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Bronx, New York, United States of America
Birthday
December 13
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Writer, actor, media professional, fan of entertainment, pop culture, and speculative fiction. Contact nickleshi@aol.com for more info.

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JANUARY 4, 2010 9:17PM

Whatever Happened to Free TV?

Rate: 6 Flag

The New York Times had a good article summarizing the rising costs of cable and satellite television as content-providers battle carriers over bigger shares of the per-customer fees.

Disputes between media companies are nothing new -- I switched to DirecTV way back when Cablevision initially refused to carry the YES Network in the Bronx, and I've never looked back. Now, Cablevision is in a similar stare-down with Scripps Networks and is not airing the popular Food Network and HGTV as they battle it out over a fair deal.

What's scary is that even supposedly "free" broadcast networks are getting into the mix -- News Corporation threatened to pull its local FOX channel from Time Warner's cable system in New York City unless they received a percentage of the per-customer fees. Although it looked like millions of New Yorkers might be deprived of watching the new seasons of American Idol and 24, a deal was reached.

CBS also started requested fees a few years ago, and there's no doubt that Disney will negotiate some new fee contract for its ABC network. Comcast is in the process of purchasing NBC, but don't be shocked when it requests fees from the other cable/satellite providers to carry the Peacock Network.
(It will likely have to pay such fees itself to appease anti-trust critics.)

It makes sense that the big broadcast networks might feel a bit victimized as their business model slowly falls apart. The days of providing free programming to mass audiences (having advertisers pay for the millions of eyeballs glued to the TV sets) are coming to an end. Ad revenue is dropping as content competition rises -- viewers are now seduced by more broadcast networks, video games, the Internet, digital video recorders that allow them to skip commercials, and tons more cable networks which can earn money from subscription fees and advertising. The broadcast networks need to start generating more profits otherwise they won't be able to produce any content, free or otherwise.

So everyone is scrambling to stay alive and develop new streams of revenue. This means the expenses are passed on to the consumers. Some people have suggested that we'll eventually have to resort to an a la cart subscription model in which television audiences pick and choose which channels they want instead of the current bundled package options. (Most cable and satellite subscribers pay for channels they never watch but are part of their overall payment plan.) The problem with the a la cart option is that the smaller fringe networks will suffer and people who watch a lot of television (like me) will actually end up having to pay a lot more for their television service (or give up a lot of content.)

Maybe we'll reach a point when the only truly free TV is PBS. Yet, even public television might eventually face the budget ax.

I believe that the marketplace will eventually weed out the crappy content and only the strong will survive. Or my worst fears will be realized and even some great content will disappear because it doesn't attract a large enough audience (i.e., subscriber fees). But then again, how different would that be from what we face now with our ratings-driven broadcast networks? Any of you who might have had a favorite TV show cancelled can feel my pain. I guess nothing is ever really free after all.

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Comments

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We are gaining free print media and losing free TV. I wish I had a solution. As an artist (actress/writer) and audience member for both, I don't want to lose any of it...
There's still over air free TV.
The fr e dig t l TV recep n is lou y.
Sign l d ops hap en reque tly.
It su ks.
The thing that is really disturbing (and Ralph Nader did nail this years ago) is that the airwaves belong to THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES. And the big corporations have found a way to use technology so we have to pay to see TV content.
We are not getting free print media. I still pay for my internet connection at home or on the mobile. The NYT article covers that base when noting that the TV competition from the internet is not technically free.

The only thing I'll say is that the lack of "free" TV comes at expanded channel lineup and/or a pipe that allows for communication back upstream. And to me and millions of others that is worth its weight in gold. The reason why free TV is disappearing is because there is no free cable or free internet. Perhaps municipalities should be investing taxpayer dollars in wireless broadband or the like.

I don't get where all this sky is falling rhetoric is coming from. Soon enough you'll be able to hook a box to your tv connected to the internet to send you all sorts of ad driven content. Hulu, Fancast, ESPN360 are all proving it works.
Free TV? Not worth the price. Pay TV? Overpriced.
Yeah, that whole digitial revolution or whatever was soooo great, the wifey and I actually lost free television channels due to the fact the signals went poop.

Ah well, it's a good thing I have DirectTV, I'd miss my informercials!! ~:)
As they say, no free lunch.
I wonder if we will end up with public newspapers, like public TV, after all the advertisers leave.
Ojin -- I fear that (despite denials) even Hulu and other currently "free" Internet content providers will eventually become subscription-based for "premium content" (which means the good stuff.)

Kathy -- As a friend of mine told me yesterday, even Public Television technically isn't free since our tax dollars pay for it. And how long before they cut it and before "viewers like you" (and me) decide that there are other things to donate our dwindling discretionary income to besides PBS and NPR?
As one who worked for Public TV for 19 years before being laid off, I think their prospects going forward are grim. Their demographic skews in the range of old to ancient, and they're clueless about how to attract younger audiences. For all the right wing grumbling about taxpayer subsidies, Uncle Sam covers under 20% of their operating expenses. The rest has to be generated from increasingly beleaguered grantors and donations from a less-willing public.