The New Three Major Networks (part 2)

This is Part 2 of a two-part blog entry. See Part 1 here.

kurt hansonYesterday, we discussed how tens of millions of Americans are now watching TV via the new “big three” networks (metaphorically speaking) of Netflix, Hulu Plus, and/or Amazon Prime Instant Video.

And now, just as with cable networks in the ’90s, a great thing that is happening lately in that all three of these new networks have adopted the model of adding a few trademark original series to their line-ups.

house of cards 250wJust as HBO has “True Detective” and TNT has “Rizzolli and Isles” (which I only know about because Liz Lemon is a fan who wants to know what they’re like in real life), Netflix has released (in an exciting full-season-at-once way) the Washington, DC-based political drama “House of Cards,” an encore season of “Arrested Development,” the American-gangster-in-Norway saga “Lilyhammer,” and the comedy “Orange is the New Black.”  Amazon offers “Alpha House” (starring John Goodman(!)) and “Betas” and right now is currently showing a whole crop of interesting new pilots they funded, including Michael Connelly’s “Bosch” and a new sci-fi thriller from “The X Files’s” Chris Carter.  And Hulu Plus is taking a less-impressive half-dozen baby steps, too.

At any rate, one result of all of this change, I believe, is that after a couple of decades of us living in a 200+ channel television universe, we’re getting back to three networks again!

For example, when I want to see a current-season TV show (e.g., last night’s “The Tonight Show” or last week’s “Family Guy”), I typically go to to Hulu Plus.  My new favorite show, the U.S.-Marshall-in-rural-Kentucky series “Justified,” runs first on a cable network somewhere, but I think of it an Amazon Prime show. And I think of  “Breaking Bad” and “Sherlock” and “Childrens Hospital” as Netflix shows.

That said, some shows (like all 28 seasons of the various live-action iterations of “Star Trek”) are available everywhere.  Somewhat confusingly, “Parks and Recreation” has the current season on Hulu and previous seasons on Netflix and Amazon, but sister program “Community” is on a different pattern, which I haven’t quite figured out yet.

But this is not much more confusing than in the three-broadcast-network era, in which shows would be originally broadcast weekly on the, say, NBC affiliate in your market but end up stripped daily on, say, the CBS affiliate.

(By the way, there’s clearly a business opportunity for someone to start a website that clears this up: If I want to watch “Person of Interest,” which service should I go to — Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon, or somewhere else?)

In this world, there are parallels and differences here for radio to pay attention to:

  1. iheartradio canvasSimilarly to my problem of where to go to watch “Community,” if I want to listen to Mix 109 in my local market on my mobile device, do I go to TuneIn or iHeartRadio (or  Or do I have to spend a couple of annoying minutes navigating to my device platform’s App Store and adding a stand-alone app to my phone?  As a consumer, I would probably have no idea whether Mix 109 is owned by Clear Channel or Townsquare or whoever, so that fact doesn’t help guide me.
  2. Consumers typically watch TV in 30- to 90-minute chunks (i.e., programs), but consumers can listen to their favorite radio station brand (whether it be Mix 109 or Pandora or whatever) for hours at a time, and theoretically even for days and weeks in a row.  So the navigation and consumption process is somewhat different.  Keep that in mind as you cogitate about these issues.
  3. TV network brands (e.g., HBO, USA, Netflix, Amazon Prime) are launching flagship programs (e.g., “The Sopranos,” “House of Cards,” “Bosch”) to burnish their images with vivid and distinctive branded programs.  By contrast, radio aggregation brands (e.g., I Heart Radio, may have some original programming (e.g., personalizable channels), but they’re currently branded generically (e.g.,”Traditional country” or “Garth Brooks radio”), which may not be the most effective way to go,
  4. With the cornucopia of options available to us from services like Netflix and. Hulu Plus, many of us are considering “cutting the cord” and dropping our cable TV service as long as we have a good broadband internet connection.  (RAIN’s Jennifer Lane notes, “Where cable once was an essential utility, it is no longer. If we ever do get a vacation house in Vermont, we won’t get cable, we’ll just use the Internet to feed our TV viewing habits.”). Similarly, once a consumer finds a good online radio source (whether it be I Heart or AccuRadio or their favorite station’s stand-alone app) and is using their mobile device as their alarm clock, it’s easier to free up space on the nightstand by boxing up that AM/FM clock radio and putting it down in the basement .
  5. Most broadcast TV networks have a horse in this race — specifically, a significant equity stake in Hulu.  On the other hand, with the exception of Clear Channel’s ownership of iHeartRadio, CBS’s ownership of, and maybe (arguably) Cumulus’s stake in Rdio, most radio broadcast groups don’t.

Brad Hill