Whither the networks

In my latest Guardian column, I argue that the big, old networks won’t die but they won’t grow and in business, isn’t that as good as dying? Here it is on The Guardian (and here it is on Buzzmachine). I go over some of the same turf longtime readers/sufferers will find familiar: How the netework that no one owns, the internet, is more powerful than the network the big guys own. And then I compare the businesses of CNN and every media commentator’s new-age darling, Rocketboom. I point out all the things Rocketboom doesn’t have: expensive studios, equipment, staffs, lawyers, deals, marketing budgets.

But they do have audience. Rocketboom serves at least 60,000 downloads a day. Compare that with Crossfire’s audience on CNN: 150,000. So Rocketboom has more than a third of the big network show’s audience at a fraction of the cost. And, by the way, CNN’s audience is near retirement age while Rocketboom’s fans (excluding me) are young enough to be CNN viewers’ grandchildren.

Rocketboom itself won’t kill CNN. But a thousand Rocketbooms will explode television.

Last week, Paul Farhi at The Washington Post explored the same thicket and came out with different burrs. He still believes that the networks have “some unrivaled competitive advantage.” And that’s true, if being big is the goal, if blockbusters remain the basis of your economics. But in this new small-is-the-new-big you no longer have to be No. 1 (or 2 or 3) to survive. You can be No. 3000 or 30,000 and be big enough to succeed. And so the networks will find themselves with 30,000 or 30 million new competitors nipping at them.