Does Greenspan Watch TV?

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Once again, Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan has reassured us all that the country is in the midst of an economic recovery. All I can say is from his lips to God's ears, as far as the television industry is concerned.

Judging from the way folks in the entertainment world are running their businesses — by cutting costs at every corner — it's clear they haven't bought into his rosy forecast.

Take the ad-sales arena: More and more cable networks and broadcasters are jamming more avails onto the screen — and underpricing their CPMS to get those ads. That's bad business, some have said, because the programmers are digging a deep hole that it will be difficult to crawl out of.

Viewers see it, feel it and are fed up. Take CBS, which recently ran the critically acclaimed The Rosa Parks Story, a two-hour movie — like clockwork, four-minute-long commercial pods interrupted that moving story every 10 minutes.

CBS is not alone here. Cable networks, most notably Turner Network Television, overload their movies with commercial pods, too. And in this dismal economy, that practice is not likely to go away.

Greenspan is right in some respects. Although he did not single out what's happening in the world of television, the dramatic downward spiral in ad-sales we witnessed in the fourth quarter has flattened out. And programmers have offered up this chorus: "At least we know where the bottom is."

But programmers are trimming the sails in many, many ways. The job losses are unprecedented. According to iwantmedia.com, a Web site that tracks media layoffs, more than 100,000 jobs were lost in this past year alone.

Casualties were sustained at the already pared-down Oxygen Media, which cut an additional 24 jobs in February. Ultimate TV eliminated 150 jobs last month, too. In January, ABC Family slashed its payroll by 300 jobs. Then there was Cablevision Systems Corp., which reduced its staff by 600 employees last December.

There are more cutbacks occurring on other fronts. According to The Chicago Tribune, more slashing and burning will occur in the local TV news. Smaller TV stations have been squeezed by the government's digital-TV mandate and will receive less in compensation from the networks, while also duking it out in the deflated advertising arena.

Repeats — or, as some like to say, "repurposing" — of broadcast shows on cable, another worrisome trend, is also picking up steam. Last week, the New York Daily News
reported that NBC's Late Night with Conan O'Brien
will wind up on E! Entertainment Television, another sign this practice is growing.

That's a worrisome trend. While it saves a buck, it could blur network branding efforts and further confuse and alienate viewers.

All of these cost-cutting measures could weaken TV, leaving it in one sorry state when the economy finally does pick up. "How you behave in this volatile year" will determine your future success, said Decker Anstrom, now the president of Landmark Communications Inc., which owns the Weather Channel, two TV stations and a bevvy of newspapers.

So what is Anstrom doing during these perilous times? It might surprise you. He's cut the commercial load on both his cable network and TV stations because he doesn't want to create more clutter or undermine his pricing.

Meanwhile, maybe Greenspan should turn on his set before he tells those toiling in the world of television that it's gonna be a bright, bright sunshiney day.

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