Monday, November 21, 2011

Is There Too Much Fragmentation In Media

Is it possible to have too much choice? The proliferation of cable networks, websites, and other forms of media have made it harder for consumers to find what they want. Even worse, while the tail keeps getting longer, revenue growth is limited. No doubt the big brands continue to provide great content but some still struggle to grow revenue. Low cost rivals scratch away at market share, and in some cases, find that lean and mean can thrive against fat and bloated. But is it time for some consolidation and fewer choices.

Industry life cycles result in the big firms swallowing up smaller rivals and proceed to create oligopolies in their industry. Product life cycles follow their corporate brands which results in companies buying and merging other products into their family of products. And some products simply vanish as their usefulness erodes and they can no longer sustain their business model.

So as I look specifically at the number of cable networks and watch as viewers begin to prefer shows over networks, watching them on demand or through streaming devices, I wonder if it is time for consolidation of network brands. Where once UHF and VHF dominated, then to analog feeds and now all digital, networks have spawned more and more offshoots of their lead brand. One example is the arrival of OWN, the Oprah network from the folks at Discovery. She excelled on broadcast but her show and her network cannot find a meaningful audience. Would it have been better to put her show on the Discovery or TLC networks?

But Discovery is not the only network that has built new networks as niche offshoots of its main brands. HGTV has DIY, Food has Cooking, NBC has Sleuth now rebranded as Cloo, WE tried with Wedding Central, VH1 has VH1 Classic. Is it time for consolidation and a movement away from linear networks to on demand? Are these niche networks only hurting viewership of their parent networks and is it time for the 500 channel universe to reduce to 100?

Like the music industry, we are moving away from album sales to individual songs. For TV, viewers watch shows not networks. Couldn't a reduced number of linear networks help keep them more viable as aggregators and recommenders of the best content. Too much sometimes just lowers the quality bar of TV content. And with the rise of DVRs, on demand, and streaming, viewers watch what they want when they want, where they want. Perhaps it is time to bring expertise back to TV network scheduling. Drop networks that aren't performing and let people watch those niche shows on demand only.