The Show Must Go On…. or must it?

It’s news Jim, but not as we know it….

Yesterday, I found myself on a panel at the Edinburgh Television Festival with the Heads of News at The BBC, Channel 5 and ITN, respectively (r to l).

The topic of discussion was the future of the evening bulletin. This is what we would call the nightly news show.

These are all very smart guys, and have all reached the pinnacle of their professional careers. Think of the Executive Producer of NBC Nightly News and you get the idea.

First, it was a pleasure to not have to retread the old VJ ground.  This is an argument that is long over in the UK. It’s here, it works, get on with it.

Having transcended that, the real issue is: in a world of web transmission and IPTV, is there any future for the Nightly News show.

My opinion is, it’s over in 5 years.  Theirs: closer to 10.

No… to be fair, they all believe, to varying degrees, that there is some future for the News Bulletin, or the nightly news show.  I don’t think so.

Their audiences are old and getting older.  Soon, sorry to say, they will start dying off. Younger viewers are not replacing them. They are, instead, on the web, and that is where they will stay.  The notion of linear television news is antithetical to the web – a distinctly non-linear, VOD environment.  The notion of waiting until 6:30PM or 10PM to get the ‘breaking news story’ is simply a non-starter in the web world.

Yet the three networks (UK or US, take your pick) pour a vast percentage of their resources into these ‘shows’.  Resources that could be put to far better use in the realm of journalism as opposed to the realm of production values. While I think the swooping in shots over Big Ben are great, the music enthralling and the studio set amazing, I also think it is pretty archaic stuff.  Just look at Google’s home page.  No fancy opens, no thrilling music, no ‘host’.

Google is a child of the web. Purely a child of the web.

You could, of course, have built a fantastic video open for Google. One that would come up every time you hit the URL. Music, graphics, pictures, video… they certainly have the money.  You could have a Google Anchor.  Male or Female? Asian? Black? Young and hip or old and wise?  These are the kinds of discussions that still dominate ‘news’ conversations at most TV networks – which is why most TV networks just don’t get, (and never will get) the web.

Which brings us back to ‘the show’.

While all TV networks in the US or the UK (and no doubt in Burkina Fasso) pay lip service to the web (all of these guys sure do), what they refuse to do is to really embrace the basic architecture that the web militates.

They can’t.

The ‘show’ is in their DNA. They have grown up with it all their lives.  It’s a hard habit to shake.

Mark Lobel, a producer for The BBC, (and a very nice guy) commented to me later that he felt that people need an organizing principle for news. Otherwise, he said, it’s too confusing. Too much to choose from. Too many options. That is why the world ‘needs’ a nightly news ‘show’.

I don’t agree.

Free presses are messy.

They are supposed to be.

The world of Television, particularly Television News has never been a free press. It has been more of a Soviet Union of Information.  THE SOURCE tells you the news. Your job; sit back and absorb and believe.

Well, technology has now consigned that model to the trash bin.  But people still cling to it in the fear that the tidal wave of news and information uncontrolled and unedited is far too overwhelming for the average person.

Could be. Could be until I take a moment to think about where we are.  (By we, I mean you and I at this moment). We are on the web.  The greatest tidal wave of uncontrolled, unfettered and unfiltered information in the history of humanity).  There is no ‘Nightly Web Show’ to organize for poor confused us all the stuff on the web (and there is a ton of stuff here).  Google does not, in fact, produce a slick, well packaged Web Tonight! with host and music.

We like the web messy and open and random and distinctly unpackaged. We find what we want and we go home, or somewhere else.

The Web, for all its messiness is not ‘too confusing’ for us, nor is it too ‘overwhelming’. We all navigate it just fine.

In the early days of the Web, there were those who felt that perhaps this was not the case.  Perhaps people needed an organizing hand to ‘help’ them manage all that messy content. That was AOL. It set about to organize sites and information for you.  It was a ‘gateway’ site.

Anyone here on AOL?


Even my 76 year old mother is no longer on AOL.

No one is.

Probably not even the News Directors……

At least I hope not.


13 responses to “The Show Must Go On…. or must it?

  1. Your posting today only reinforces what I’ve been reading on various sites over the course of the past year – IPTV will most likely go live first in Europe purely for the reason that the U.S. is so stuck in a 20th century mentality. European culture seems to accept this kind of change more readily than here in the states.

    As you pointed out – solo vj already works in that part of the world. I look forward to the day when it does likewise here.

  2. Agree about the VOD sentiments – think they’ll be much more of it. But it’s not an ‘either or’ situation, surely.

    I think the British are too entrenched in their evening viewing habits to mean the end of the nightly news programme is nigh: we are too fond of sitting on the sofa with our suppers and watching a summary of the day’s events at 6 or at 10 and being told what’s happening. At that time of night I don’t want VOD, I don’t want to press buttons or surf menus. The only thing I want to interact with is a nice bottle of Chablis. I suspect many others feel the same. Best, P.

  3. And yet, you yourself insist on doing “the show” at the Star Ledger with your very own white mwle anchor, newsroom set and reporter packages.

    Why is it you make claims like those I’m the post above then don’t walk your own talk?

  4. Well, you raise an interesting point at first glance, but let’s really take a look.

    The Ledger Live runs 5 minutes a day, of which about half is Brian the desk. The other half is a video or two. The Ledger has about 30 VJs. The vast majority of what they produce obviously goes to the nonlinear site, and not the 5 minute live. That is just a platform.

    Even so, my primary problem with ‘The Show’ on network or local TV news is the vast percentage of resources that the ‘show’ consumes.

    At the Ledger, the cost of the show is minimal to none. Take a look at it. If Fox did something so simple and stripped down, think how much more you could throw at the journalism.

  5. So, as I’ve mentioned before, the “live” claim in the title isn’t really true.

    It’s live at that one time, maybe, while you record it then the rest of the day it’s not live.

    Live, being a favorite promotion of traditional broadcast news.

    Just like using a newsroom as the backdrop to your “anch0r” as he delivers stories.

    Your entire blog post above is all about how silly it is that newspapers are not doing the presentation of news any different from traditional broadcasting.

    Yet you, with your own efforts, work very hard to mimic what has already been done by traditional broadcast media.

    Even down to using a teleprompter for your white male anchor and you standing there giving cues like a traditional studio camera operator from the 1960’s.

    Tell me again.

    Where is this different product you claim should be produced?

    Is it something even you can’t seem to achieve at the Star Ledger?

    This isn’t about cost to produce now.

    It’s about someone claiming they know what new is and, when push comes to shove to get a product to the viewers, you prove you have no new ideas at all.

    Just a rush to claim “live”.

  6. It is live when it goes out for the first time. After that it is obviously recorded. So? In the infinite space of the web we have room for both. As for the teleprompter, there is none used. The shot you saw on the blog was from an early experiment when we were testing both teleprompter and putting guests for interviews or a managing editor into the telepromoter to talk to Brian. It makes good eye contact with the camera while staying conversational. We opted for nothing in the end, which seems to work fine.
    And it very much is about cost to produce. When you cut away the many many many layers of fat in conventional television newsrooms (and there are many), you pare the news and journalism down to the basics. In doing so, you put your resources into the journalism and not the actors. At the same time, you can allow experimentation like the teleprompter, because it does not cost anything to try and fail and then try something else. Sort of like writing. Try this.. try that. see what works and what does not. You might try this approach at Fox. Get rid of the fat. Focus on the journalism instead of the performers. Would take you a long way.

  7. Mike, unsure its “organization” that the nightly news brings as much as the perception of its content at least being vetted for accuracy.

    Somehow we begin to trust the anchor, therefore, what he or she says, must be true.

    I dont have that same confidence in web content; I have no idea of its pedigree, who vets it for accuracy, and so on.

    For nightly news to evolve, it must take that one quintessential thing it alone posseses – a reputation for trust, and apply it to the cowboy and indian land of the web.

    Good, thought provoking ideas, here Mike – well done.


  8. Michael you are trying to explain 21st century business using 19th century economic theory. The concepts that make up the “economics of scarcity” model simply don’t work with new media.

    The whole notion of price being the arbiter of supply and demand is meaningless when everything is distributed for $0. The standard pricing mechanism is blown apart when the marginal cost is $0 to 5 or 10 decimal places.

  9. Wish I was clever enough to understand the last post.

    I agree with MR wholeheartedly, that news on the web has a huge future. You don’t need a crystal ball to realise this, the revolution is already upon us.

    But I am also sceptical about the economies of web news. I think it’s going to get more and more competitive – and I think proprietors are going to need to get more adept at identifying audiences and winning over advertisers.

    Competition is no bad thing of course. It raises the standard for everyone. But here’s the rub; it means programming will need to become more distinctive, more appealing to survive. Enter the marketeers and the branding experts…..and before you know it, you are back to square one – hiring $1m dollar anchors and building sets for the web….

    We might not be too far away from the day when every newspaper has its own VJ team. But when they all start doing the same thing, market economics take over and newsrooms start spending their VJ budgets on pretty newsreaders and image consultants…..

  10. Pingback: Matt McAlister » The future for expensive TV is bright

  11. gee, i wonder who vetted that story the “trusted” reporter from kc was breathlessly humping that obama had chosen bayh as his vp choice?

    some trust builder.

    but, judging by the early numbers, it sure sent a brickload of viewers to their web property

  12. It’s interesting reading of the detractors whom I now view as “Chattering Monkey’s” – They make incessant noise that brings nothing to the discussion.

    Who cares if it is trusted or not? The bottom line is – the distribution of information is no longer controlled by so called “Trusted” Corporate Media Outlets.

    ANP just posted a disturbing video on the Fascist actions of the Denver police department towards peaceful protesters who were antagonized into a position so that the police felt they could use force to “control” the violent crowd. Why wasn’t that shown on mainstream broadcast news???

    It took outside independent news reporting by ANP working like solo vj’s with small lightweight cameras to show what truly went on – they even showed footage of mainstream media being kicked out so that no footage could be broadcast as to what was actually happening. That’s because they were lugging 2-3 person production crews in the official media pool and so were excluded from the real news that was occurring. There’s footage of these professional news gathering crews being escorted away from the action.

    Trusted news media is an oxymoron statement in this country from my experience.

  13. The only quibble I have with web news is date or time information – too often a search I put in returns a page written a long time ago. Seems like the “page” was updated recently, whether the content was or not. Because the dates are “off” doing a web search for news sometimes brings up information that is not news anymore. But, that’s probably something that will be solved eventually.

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