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Years ago, when I worked for Frank N. Magid Associates, Frank had a continuing project called “the newscast of the future.” It eventually became an inside joke because we all knew that none of our clients actually wanted a newscast of the future.
Newscasts had become so regimented, so carefully choreographed, that first-place stations were fearful any major change would cause viewers to become uncomfortable and turn somewhere else. There was simply too much to lose. I began to call this the inverse relationship between profitability and risk. The higher the profitability, the less appetite for risk.
Even last place stations could make a lot of money in those days, so their appetite for change was also limited. They wanted to produce a “better” newscast than the leader. Thus bells, whistles and all the other things we do today were added, then countered, until all stations looked pretty much alike.
As time went on, most markets settled into the ratings patterns we see today, one where relative station positions have become fixed. That is a good thing if you are in first place, but a looming disaster if you are a poor fourth. Simply trying to do a better job than the leader is a model that stopped working long ago.
As we look to 2022, it’s amazing to think how little has changed. Sure, mobile, digital and many of the other things we do today look different, but the basic proposition is still the same. Stations compete against other