We now conclude our broadcast day

MinnPost’s David Brauer has a report today on a media panel he participated on regarding the future of the media in its various forms and one of the most fascinating tidbits was the notion of national networks “going dark” during certain dayparts.


(KARE executive producer Lonnie)Hartley noted that NBC is considering not programming Saturday nights. That could toss the time back to local affiliates — who themselves are short on cash and aren’t quite sure what they’d put there.

Obviously, syndicated shows are an option but they cost money. KARE wouldn’t have to share ad dollars with the networks, but they might reap less from the syndie shows’ lower ratings.

It’s an intriguing possibility because it’s one possible outcome of the media recession that few seem to be considering — don’t spend money broadcasting/publishing during those periods when there’s no — or little — audience.

Crazy? Work with me here. It wasn’t that long ago, whippersnappers, when TV stations signed off at midnight and then signed back on at dawn. How many people remember test patterns? They’re the last remnants of non-24-hour service.

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In the ’80s, more stations started staying on the air around the clock. And few seem to be asking whether that makes monetary sense. Suppose NBC did give back Saturday night to the affiliates and suppose the affiliates simply shut the station off? So what? They won’t lose advertising revenue; Saturday is the smallest audience of the week and, besides, people will still watch you when you resume broadcasting and have something worth watching. The 10 PM news? Come on, have you watched Saturday night local news?

I don’t stop at TV. What if radio did the same thing? It wasn’t too many years ago I ran a small “daytimer” radio station which was required to go off the air at sundown. Granted , in the dead of winter, it hurt to put the “we now conclude our broadcast day” announcement on at 4:15 in the afternoon. But there’s not a lot of money to be made in night-time radio.

Newspapers? They’ll probably be the first to stop at certain times. In fact, today the buzz in Detroit is both newspapers there will stop home delivery on certain days of the week.

There isn’t a media company in America that isn’t having big discussions about cutting expenses these days. But what if — what if? — one of the realities is we’re not really the 24/7 society we thought we were?

(Aside: Not surprisingly, there’s a Web site that hosts several videos of station sign-offs)

  • Jim!!!

    I used to stay up for Linda Ellerbee on NBC News Overnight. After that was the national anthem and then TV went to bed if I remember correctly.

    And so it goes.

  • Bob

    Given how shallow and non-nourishing most local TV news programming is, and how juvenile the late-night talk shows are, it would be no loss if the tube went dark at 10:00 pm.

    Regarding newspapers, whether it’s the morning edition or the afternoon edition, the business model is, at least from a “green” perspective, downright dinosauric. So much so, in fact, that I would dare to suggest that daily newspapers are, in terms of the environment, literally against the public interest.

  • Bob Collins

    That’s right. Linda Ellerbee — remind me to tell you the story of how I found a plumber for Linda Ellerbee one time — was one of THE reasons why TV stayed on after midnight. Another was Charlie Rose. And Tom Snyder.

    But those days are gone. In some ways the content THEN drove the decision. Content doesn’t drive decisions anymore. The end of NBC Overnight really may have been the end of usefulness for overnight TV.

    Now I presume the theory was the same as Cub Foods’ decision to open 24 hours. The stockboys have to be there anyway, so what the heck; it’s cheap. But I’m not sure there is such a thing as “cheap” anymore when everyone’s digging into the couch cushions.

    In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if some of the 24/7 businesses decided to cut hours.

  • Colin

    What goes around comes around, i suppose.

  • Bob Collins

    Yes, perhaps there is a future in the past.

  • http://mnstories.com Chuck Olsen

    Rather than turn out the lights, local stations can find some inexpensive/free local web video to broadcast. The UpTake, MN Stories, 3 min. egg, etc. – there’s a slowly growing realm of online video that would jump at the chance to be on teevee. Some of it is even good!

  • Bob Collins

    But what’s in it for a TV station? There’s no savings in energy or staff. And there’s no monetization of that.

    It might be a good thing for The Uptake or MNStories, but what makes it good for the TV station that’s trying to save money when nobody’s watching.

    In the end, the on-demand aspect of the Web can’t be touched by the you’ll-get-what-we-give-you technology of legacy media. So why try to compete at a time when there’s few eyeballs to compete for? Why not just retrench and put the money in the dayparts where the audience is rather than weakening an entire 24 hour period?

    Otherwise, doesn’t the medium end up like Sunday morning commercial radio where you put all the stuff you have to broadcast to keep your license and you put it there because nobody’s listening then and it won’t hurt anybody.

    I’ve got to believe that’s a question that media execs are asking. Up to know, reducing broadcast hours has been considered waving a white flag.

  • bsimon

    “Up to know, reducing broadcast hours has been considered waving a white flag.”

    Maybe it will still prove to be just that.

    I wonder how long local broadcast television will last anyway. There really isn’t a lot worth watching. Monday night my wife hosted a book club, so I planned to sit and veg in the basement, ideally in front of Monday Night Football. Of course, that’s a cable property now, so that left me with channel surfing. I eventually settled for a PBS show on the early history of California. The majors were all broadcasting crap, crap and crap.

  • Andy

    KARE should simply fill the airwaves (digital waves?) with what the people really want. Reruns of ‘The Golden Girls’ and ‘Blossom’. That’s when TV was “must see”!

  • Bob Collins

    You laugh, but think about how great Saturday nights used to be. OK, it was on CBS, but what the heck. The lineup (I can’t quite remember the order) — Mary Tyler Moore, Newhart, M*A*S*H, Carol Burnett.

  • http://wcco.com/jasonblog Jason DeRusha

    Bob, you’d be surprised how inexpensive it is to put Saturday night news on the air. And you’d be surprised how many people are watching.

    Even if you cancel a show, you’d still have to staff a newsroom (lots of news happens at night).

    Plus with automation, keeping a station on the air overnight is an almost negligible cost.

    The real question is whether it’s worth paying for programming on low viewership nights, or whether stations could develop low cost or local infomercial programs instead.

  • Alison

    I’m dreaming here, but wouldn’t it be nice if all stations went off the air for an hour a couple of times a week for ‘National Reading Time”.

  • http://www.ldp.com Linda Ellerbee

    Since facts add a lot to any story, I thought I might offer a few.

    Well, one.

    I know why it was that early in the 1980s the broadcast networks started programming during the wee hours between sign-off and sign-on. You see, I was there.

    The reason it happened can be summed up in two words: Ted Turner.

    In 1980, Turner went on the air with CNN, which didn’t really scare NBC, ABC and CBS (all of which referred to CNN as Chicken Noodle Network), until the broadcast networks’ affiliates began to complain. They were worried that a certain number of people tended to get up in the morning and simply turn their TVs on to whatever channel they’d been watching when they’d turned their TVs off the night before. Maybe they (the affiliates) ought to sign up to air CNN during those empty network hours. Naturally, this worried the broadcast networks.

    The broadcast network news divisions were the most unhinged by this state of affairs, and so, moving with the speed that is the hallmark of large corporations, each of the big three broadcast networks introduced late-night (and in the case of CBS News — all-night) newscasts in 1982. “By God, if America wants news in the middle of the night, we’ll give it to them!

    In other words, it was a money decision. It was done to keep the affiliates away from Turner.

    Easy, really, when you think about it. In network terms, news is the cheapest thing to produce, so you put a late-night newscast on, and then you re-run some Mary Tyler Moores, a couple of Bob Newharts, one I love Lucy, then re-run that new late-night newscast and then —Hello! — it’s time for the network’s new sunrise news show, which leads, of course, straight to “Today” or “Good Morning, America,” or the “CBS Morning News.”

    Problem solved.

    Trouble is, within another two years, all three broadcast networks had come to realize Turner wasn’t the threat they had imagined. Plus, it seemed the Nielsen Company had no way to reliably measure viewers after midnight, which meant the networks couldn’t charge much for commercials during that time. And so the broadcast networks immediately cancelled their new late-night news programs and replaced them with more sit-com re-runs, infomercials and god-knows what crap. The cheaper the better. Why, my goodness, the infomericals even paid for the air time!

    Of course, I have personal reasons for regretting this decision as I was lucky enough to be the anchor and managing editor of one of those short-lived, late-night news shows (NBC News Overnight).

    It was always fun. It was often good. It is over.

    Send in the clowns.

    Better yet, give the time back to the affiliates. Except (and this is not fact; this is what you call a “guess.”) that’s is not going to happen.

    And corporations never, ever blush.

    Linda Ellerbee