The not-so-big four

reprodução The Economist
Da The Economist

“The recession has been cruel to a business that depends almost entirely on advertising. Local television stations, many of them owned by or affiliated with national broadcasters, have seen advertising revenue fall by as much as 40% as car dealers and other retailers cut back. Later this month the national networks will test the market for advance advertising. It should prove better than the local market, but still difficult. And this painful cyclical problem coincides with a bigger, structural one: the audience for the “big four” broadcast networks is eroding.

It is not that people are watching less television. In the last quarter of 2008 the average American took in 151 hours per month, an all-time record, according to Nielsen, a market-research firm. The trouble is the growth of choice. More than 80% of American households now get their television via satellite or cable. To them, the broadcast channels are just items on a menu containing hundreds of dishes.

The networks can still produce hits. “American Idol” and “CSI”, respectively an amateur singing competition and a forensic-science drama, routinely attract more than 20m viewers—three times as many as the most successful cable shows. But occasional triumphs do not add up to a sustainable business model. “




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