Network TV: Are The Big Boys Ready To Fall?

Network TV: Are The Big Boys Ready To Fall?

January 22, 2015 0 By Jeff Fountain

The big TV networks have been around for… well, it seems like forever. They have been the ones responsible for scheduling your evenings with quality content and dominating the daytime with soap opera storylines.

However, like the dinosaurs that ruled the earth only to suddenly die off, have the networks life run its course and are they ready to surrender their grip on the viewing public and finally fall?

Maybe not quite yet, but all the signs point to a massive shift in power that may see one or two causalities in the network family in the future.

We all know the big three networks; NBC, CBS and ABC. These three evolved from radio to throw a huge blanket over the television landscape and dominate it for years. In 1986, a newcomer joined the network club called FOX. Initially laughed at and predicted to quickly flame out and die, its flourished and held its own, so much so that the networks these days are usually referred to as the big four.

For years, these networks have followed a tried and true formula that has served them very well. Early news shows, daytime soaps, dinner hour news, evening programming, final news of the day and then late night talk shows to take you into the start of the next day.

Does that sound about right?

Well, thanks in large part to the internet, those simple days for the networks no longer exist. Maybe a better way to say it is that they can no longer sleepwalk through their programming schedule unless they want to be left behind in this new age of technology and competition.


A great example of how some networks see and understand the need to be more open-minded is the deal CBS made this summer with The thirteen episode mini-series Under the Dome, based on the immense Stephen King novel of the same name, was licensed to Amazon. This allows Amazon Prime members to stream episodes of the series four days after they have been aired on television, and also gives them the option to purchase or download them.

This shows me that CBS is grudgingly admitting it is time to jump into the world of internet big business and use it to its advantage. However, even though Amazon members can view the show four days after its airing, it still doesn’t stop many other people from downloading from other sources for free and watching it the next day.

That’s a topic for another day.

Seeing CBS partner up with Amazon must have the other networks more than a little nervous and no doubt they are scrambling to do something similar. Blatantly copying someone’s idea is almost expected in the world of television, so I would expect to see some similar deals made in the near future.

Even though I found the whole idea of this collaboration between CBS and Amazon interesting, I was even more interested in a comment made be a CBS executive stating that the show might not have got done without the involvement of Amazon.

This deal with Amazon combined with Under the Dome being a huge hit in the ratings and Amazon users, makes this a huge deal for CBS. The battle with Time Warner, like two big kids fighting over candy, has been tough on its image and this deal makes CBS seem cool and innovative to the next generation.


Let’s be clear about one thing: all these networks are well aware of the shift in viewing by consumers. They know that television is not the only medium to view their product anymore. The question is, will they all be able to make the transition to this new world or will one or more be left behind?

Obviously, deals with internet companies have huge advantages, but there are still some other factors that easily keep networks in business. One of those is deals with sports leagues.

The NBA, NFL and MLBA are huge money makers for the networks. Huge fan bases attract the big boys in advertising which combined brings in money by the bucket full. This relationship has been one of the constants that the networks could rely on for a steady stream of income.

Wonder what would happen to the networks if sports and all their advertising started moving more of their product online for customers there? TV would always have sports in some capacity, they still reach a much bigger audience. But with people today wanting mobile things to watch, it makes you wonder. Bit by bit, this once giant income could start bleeding away to other sources.

Now remember, the networks are not stupid. They all have their own websites with different ways to view and purchase different shows or movies. The issue isn’t that they will sit on their behinds and do nothing. With so many ways to watch your favorite TV show, it’s more a matter of who will step up and who will be left behind.

While there are lots of ways for the networks to make money, in the end it is you, the viewer, that will determine how this will happen. The new generation has little patience for issues with their viewing choices. For instance, if someone is watching a show from ABC on their website and the quality or speed is not up to par, they won’t hesitate to try and find it somewhere else.

This is another issue facing the networks. While they are fully aware of the changing trend of the viewing public the technology sometimes needs time to catch up. Upload and download speeds, video and sound cards in mobile and desktop devices need to be constantly updated, as does the internet company’s software and hardware which provides this service.

The transferring of technology from network to internet to mobile user is the newest battleground in the war to be top dog. As old contracts move closer to ending, renewing them has become more difficult and a lot more costly. Companies dealing with networks, who once were slaves to television, now see the future as well and they will try their best to make the networks pay.

So is one of these networks going to crash and burn? As of right now, I think they are safe. They still are built on a percentage of people who enjoy sampling watching TV at home. That however will not always be the case. It remains to be seen which networks will safely navigate the minefield of contracts and technology and those that will misjudge the wave of the future and come crashing down into little pieces.