AT&T Time Warner deal a sign of things to come

The ground shook across the TV landscape when a potential AT&T Time Warner deal was announced, forewarning investors and competitors that the behemoths are taking the changed landscape seriously.

The deal, at a cost of $85 billion, is a long shot to be approved by regulators. Even it fails, it demonstrates how jumbled the era of Peak TV has become.

AT&T Time Warner deal
The AT&T Time Warner deal is a sign of the future

Our viewing habits have changed drastically over the last few years, with many cutting the cord, streaming services taking preference (especially among the coveted Millennials) and even ratings for the NFL dipping. Everyone connected to the industry is trying to figure out how to win – and how to survive.

The idea behind an AT&T Time Warner deal is to own both the content and delivery of programming. The strategy is akin to that of Netflix, producing original programming because content providers have become increasing unlikely to make licensing deals with it. They want to own distribution as well.

With that in mind, there are all kinds of rumors about forthcoming deals. Disney will buy Netflix (unlikely, although the two did finalize an exclusive deal for Netflix to stream Pixar and Marvel movies). Comcast will look to another mobile carrier, like T-Mobile or Sprint. (Or even Dish.) Already, Charter is merging with Time Warner Cable (not to be confused with Time Warner).

Will any of these rumored acquisitions or mergers actually work?

What the AT&T Time Warner deal means.

Most analysts are skeptical, noting that Time Warner would be in danger of losing its fees from cable systems if it gave AT&T customers shows it owns, like Game of Thrones.

But I’m not. The old ways of doing things mean that content providers and distributors would just stand pat. They can’t do that. The downfall of Peak TV is that there’s simply too much of it. (Much of it good, mind you.) There will be a bubble that bursts at some point. The ones left standing will be the ones that control both ends of the creative spectrum.

The AT&T Time Warner deal may not be approved. But it won’t be the last one t0 get considered. These deals aren’t about gaining increased market share. They are about survival.

Sponsoring the Today Show and others

Advertisers have been scrambling for the last few years to find new channels to reach target audiences. People are cutting the cord, watching TV on streaming services and recording shows on their DVRs so they can fast forward through the commercials.

Therefore, advertisers have looked for other avenues, primarily social media and ads on YouTube and the like. TV still represents the best way to reach a broad audience, but the playing field has become more complex.

Today Show
Is sponsoring a show like The Today Show the new (old) thing?

So what are advertisers to do? Well, they can go back to the future, which is just what American Express has done. It will now sponsor entire segments of the Today Show that will reduce the number of commercials, increase the amount of show content and give American Express a channel to raise its profile.

Sponsoring The Today Show is old hat, but also the new wave.

This tactic, of course, is nothing new. In fact, it’s as old as television itself. The early 50s saw the Texaco Star Theater, a vaudeville show hosted by Milton Berle. It was common for shows throughout that decade and the 60s to have a title sponsor that simply owned that time on the air.

American Express is spending $28.1 million of its $141.7 million advertising budget on NBC alone, with a good chunk of it going to the Today Show. Is this the wave of the future (the past)?

Absolutely. And it won’t just be broadcast TV. Networks and streaming services are playing in a field advertising dollars spread thin. It’s not a big stretch to imagine advertisers owning a show, either on broadcast, cable or even (gulp) streaming.

Does this approach have the potential to turn off viewers? Yes and no. It would actually be welcomed, if the programming already includes advertising. As a viewer, I’ve always appreciated the European model in which the programs are sponsored and ads are shown at the beginning of the program, thus not interrupting during the show itself.

I don’t expect an immediate push to adopt the American Express Today Show model. But don’t be surprised if, in the desperation to open up new channels, that advertisers and TV networks don’t consider it more often.

FS1 is making its pitch even if it’s hard to find

You’re not alone if you’ve been searching your TV guide looking for the baseball playoffs and becoming confused. The championship series for both the American League and National League are being played out far down your channel list on FS1.

FS1, short for Fox Sports 1, is Fox’s answer to ESPN and airing the championship series on it is Fox’s attempt to get more eyeballs on a channel that so far has been largely ignored by viewers.

FS1
You can find Cubs-Dodgers on FS1.

I have news for you frustrated sports fans. You’re going to see more of this and Fox is right to do it.

FS1 taking advantage of ESPN’s weakening brand.

FS1, launched about three years ago, has mostly been known for lower-level college sports and some mixed martial arts. But recent moves, including signing some ex-ESPN staffers such as Skip Bayless, demonstrate that Fox is serious about making FS1 a true contender to ESPN. Right now, ESPN still dominates in the ratings but Fox is betting that viewers catching playoff baseball on its sports channel will funnel their viewing habits to the Fox channel. Promos for FS1 programming litter the baseball broadcasts to combat its single biggest problem: Lack of awareness.

We’re at this point because networks saw an opening with the slow defraying of the ESPN brand. The sports network, which began with humble beginnings in the late 70s, dominated the sports conversation so much over the last 20 years that many sports, especially college football and basketball, adjust their schedules to ESPN’s whim.

What ESPN should be doing.

But ESPN, while still leading in the ratings, has seen viewership drop for its flagship show, SportsCenter, and a weaker loyalty to its brand. It has suffered a talent drain (Bayless to FS1, Dan Patrick to NBC, Bill Simmons to HBO and his own media site, The Ringer) and fewer contracts with sports leagues. (Fox, for example, will air the college football playoffs in January.)

Few of us understand what ESPN stands for anymore. It once stood for being immersed in the world of sports. Without the monopoly on league contracts, however, it can’t hold that spot. Even the sports leagues themselves now have their own networks. (The MLB Network aired some of the earlier baseball playoff rounds.)

FS1 isn’t the only network punching a hole into ESPN’s balloon. NBCSports and CBS Sports Network are also on air. ABC, the owner of ESPN, has responded by cutting costs at ESPN.

Downsizing is almost always the signifier that a brand is losing ground. Instead, ESPN should be searching for what brand meaning would regain its preference.

The damage is done. So when you lament the baseball playoffs being on channel 400 (FS1 here in Greensboro), you’d better wise up and greet in the new era. It’s here to stay.

The appealing brand of Shark Tank

I am not the easiest audience to impress. Just ask my son, who this past weekend attempted to share a segment from the Comedy Central sketch series, Key & Peele. While he was laughed so hard that tears streamed down his face (the segment was one entitled “High on Potenuse”) mine barely moved a muscle. I could see his intrigue in the show, but regretfully, I won’t be binge watching that series any time soon.

I love just anything on PBS. It was easy for me to become ridiculously infatuated with the HBO series’ The Sopranos and The Wire. Lately, though, I have been snarked by Shark Tank.

Shark Tank
The appeal of Shark Tank lies in the belief in entrepreneurship.

Shark Tank has filled up the capacity of my DVR. Simply put, I cannot get enough. There is something I admire about each of the “sharks.” They have wits about them, they follow their gut and are willing to take a leap of faith more times than not. And they are entertaining.

Shark Tank taps into a universal belief.

In the past I’ve hinted at my viewership of the Tank and have even blogged on products presented on the show. But now’s the time to give the show a complete piece of my mind.

With the risk of sounding hokey, Shark Tank is good medicine for our county. It’s the “American Dream” at its finest. It’s a platform where entrepreneurs with a great idea (or a bad one, even) has a chance to fully realize their potential. Shark Tank also offers helpful feedback from a group of folks who understand brand remarkably well.

The show’s brand power comes from the belief that anyone can be successful, if they are just innovative enough and work hard. That’s a belief many of us share. So we put ourselves in the position of the those presenting new products and those judging them.

I cannot recommend it enough. As for me, I have another episode, or 30, to catch up on.

PBS has a winner with Daniel Tigers Neighborhood

I’ve written a bunch about my newly minted role as a grandfather. It’s what I love most about life these days, so it’s hard for me to ignore. My two grandchildren, Rhegan and Liam, fill me with an exuberant amount of joy. Such is the way of a one and three year-old. Life is about being in the moment — whether that moment is good or bad — which is inspiring to me.

More than that, Mom and Dad, and most times the grandparents too, are the most important people in their world. A humbling thought. The brands we all introduce to the munchkins are those that we have a similar faith in, especially with that faith placed on us.

Daniel Tigers NeighborhoodAnd so, whenever we watch a TV show with them, we look for Daniel Tigers Neighborhood on PBS Kids.

Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is the amalgamation of teachable lessons, modernity, and the sentimentality of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. It’s also a PBS program, a television brand in which I have a great deal of faith.

Daniel Tigers Neighborhood hits on on cylinders.  

Sure, Daniel Tiger will drive many adult crazy after a few episodes. It sports repetitive songs and saccharine characters. But the show isn’t for us, it’s for the kids. They love it like sugar. Unlike sugar, however, Daniel Tiger actually has positive affects on children and their emotional well-being Daniel (based on the puppet from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood) copes with his parents going out for a date, while a catchy mantra of “Grownups come back” is sung. I’ve also watched episodes dealing with jealousy, sleeping in the dark or dealing with bullies. All of which are vital lessons for children.

With Daniel Tiger, I take comforted in knowing that it does the little buggers good.