Saturday, August 28, 2010

TV in Counterprogramming

When it comes to the battle between television and the Internet for supremacy in video programming, TV is throwing in the towel.

I knew it would come to this eventually, and one sign of the decline of television was the “As Seen on YouTube” logo I saw splashed across an advertisement last month. “As Seen on TV” is already morphing into its online version.

Another sign of this is the recent cancellation of the startling new series Breakthrough with Tony Robbins after just two episodes. It wasn’t canceled because the audience was small — at over 3 million, it was large enough by the standards of a summer replacement miniseries. No, it was canceled because TV executives thought it was too similar to video programming that is available online.

That means that TV has been reduced to counterprogramming — trying to draw an audience with programming that isn’t available online. The idea of counterprogramming has been around as long as television has. One of the best examples is the figure skating broadcasts that occur at the same time as professional football games. Football is popular, so a channel that can’t show football on the day of a big football game will show something that will appeal to people who don’t like football. That’s the idea of counterprogramming. But now, the entire television schedule is counterprogramming.

Probably the entire Breakthrough with Tony Robbins miniseries will be shown somewhere on television — but as a rerun. For the moment, for the next week at least, you can see the series online, on Hulu, with additional related programming on a separate web site. It is almost as if television said to the Internet, “Here, you take this series. We know when we’re beaten.”

It is not just television that is hurting from the availability of free video programming on the Internet. The movie rental business has fallen on hard times, with Blockbuster expected to file for bankruptcy in September, and Netflix at risk of losing its slim profit margin any day now as its customer base erodes.