From Three To Six To ? Essay, Research Paper
From Three to Six to ?
From 1960 to 1980, the classic network system of ABC, CBS, and NBC, dominated television. From 1980 to the present the classic network system began to lose their oligopoly on the television viewers of America with the popularization of cable and the uprising of three new networks. In this paper I plan to give a background on the conditions that led to the uprising of the three new networks, the differences between the networks, and an opinion as to which network will survive.
For twenty years ABC, NBC, and CBS, dominated the television industry. Their only competition was each other. Why didn t anyone decide to jump into the market to compete against these giants? Their was two main reasons why, until recently, it was virtually impossible to start up a network of your own.
The first reason no new networks were started was technology. Until the introduction of fiber optic lines, and digital satellite systems, their was a spectrum shortage. MGM and Paramount tried to start networks in the twenties but failed mainly because of this spectrum shortage.(Hilmes, Broadcast Bottleneck) Until 1985 most cable companies had close to the maximum number of stations already filled up because of the must carry rule. So few markets have more than three UHF channel allotments that a fourth network faced an almost insurmountable barrier (Head/Sterling 3.10) With the new technology of the nineties, cable and satellite companies can carry as many stations as they wish.
The second, but I feel biggest, reason no new networks were started was regulations. In 1972 the FCC applied definitive rules to cable. The FCC began to apply a must carry rule that they enforced on cable companies. It required each cable system to carry the signals of all the significantly viewed stations within its coverage area. Originally, they enforced this rule to protect local stations from discriminatory treatment by cable companies, and to help out small UHF stations with weaker signals. Since cable only has a certain number of channels, the must carry rule left little, if any, room for a new station. When this law was refuted in 1985, it opened a doorway for new networks. Instead of cable companies picking up a lot of small stations, they could pick up the stations they felt had the best programming for their subscribers.
Another rule that came out of the 1972 cable act was the Financial Interest/Syndication rules (fin/syn). This set of rules forbid networks from having a financial interest in programs produced for them by outside companies. These rules also limited network in-house production to no more than 10 half hour series per network in prime time. They also said that networks could not act as program syndicators. (Head/Sterling 12.5) So basically this set of regulations took most of the financial interest away from the networks. After much pressure from the three major networks, the fin/syn rules were dropped in 1990. Networks could again take financial interest in their programming. This financial interest led to three new vertically integrated networks.
Rupert Murdoch was the first person to take advantage of vertical integration. When he bought 20th Century Fox in 1985, he gained complete control over a company with an enormous film library, and rights to various popular television series (M*A*S*H and L.A. Law for example). (Head/Sterling) In 1986 Murdoch attempted the first new network since 1967, the Fox network. It started off very small only programming one night a week. The initial limitations of Fox s size would work to its advantage though. Because Fox didn t program 15 hours a week, they escaped the fin/syn rules that prevented full service networks from producing their own shows. Murdoch could take advantage of his production (20th Century Fox), and exhibition (Fox owned and operated stations) companies, a great example of vertical integration.
Fox began in 1986 and produced all its own original programs. It said it wanted to aim these programs at the 18-35 year old audience. It s niche was going to be the younger audience or America. Fox s first show was The Joan Rivers show, in the late night time slot. Now after some failures, they ve given up on that time slot. Two other original Fox programs were 21 Jump Street, a drama, and Married with Children, a comedy. Married with children was Fox s first really successful show. Soon after came The Simpsons, Cops, Martin, Beverly Hills 90210, and Melrose Place. Fox was beginning to take away viewers from the big three networks. Fox took its biggest jump when it out bid CBS for the rights to NFC football games in 1994. Today Fox has Football, Hockey, and Baseball. Fox came a long way in ten years and is now considered on of the big four networks.
CBS, NBC, and ABC weren t going to let Fox in their elite three without a fight. In 1990 the networks lobbied to have the fin/syn rules deregulated so that they too could produce their own programs, and won. This opened the door for more new networks.
In 1993 Jamie Kellner approached the Warner Brothers company with the idea for a new network. With a resume that included spearheading the Fox network, Warner Bros. named Kellner chief executive of the new WB Television Network. Time Warner is the largest media corporation in the world, with interests in book and magazine publishing, film and television programming, broadcasting, cable systems, and the music industry.(Hilmes, Broadcast Bottleneck) They were more vertically integrated than Fox. How could they go wrong?
On Wednesday, January 11, 1996 the WB network started with three brand new shows on one night of programming. The Wayans Bros., Unhappily Ever After, and Muscle are comedies aimed at their 12-34 year old target group. They re starting with comedies because they feel they are the hardest to get started. I think they need more variety in their programming and should try a teen drama show, a genre which seems to be really popular right now. WB decided against having an affiliate board to advise them on shows like Fox did. Kellner says That formal military nonsense is gone (Kellner Out Foxing the Competition) Already they have affiliates in 62% of the country ( 80% including WGN). I think it s good to start out with a small established station, but in order to be successful I think they will have to get their own affiliates. In September they plan to start a Saturday and weekday children s cartoon block. WB has the past success of their classic Warner Bros. cartoons along with new shows from Steven Spielberg. These cartoons, need to be the cornerstone of their network if they are going to be successful in my opinion. There s few new, good cartoons anymore. Nothing compares to the classic Bugs Bunny days. I think they should have started with the cartoons because of their past success and then moved to comedies.
The United Paramount Network is the final new network to date and has the backing of Viacom. It was started just five days after WB, on January 16, 1996. UPN is going after a 18-49 male target audience with shows like the spin-off of Star Trek, Star Trek: Voyager, Pig Sty (a comedy from the producers of Cheers), Platypus Man, and a drama staring Richard Dean Anderson called Legend, to name a few. UPN is relying heavily on stars and producers who have a successful past. I like this approach and think it gives the shows a better chance of survival because you ve already got people who have proved likable in the television industry. They are programming for two nights instead of one like WB. I also like this approach. I think if an affiliate is going to pick you up, they want programs and a lot of them. Fill up your schedule and then start worrying about the ratings(so easy to say when I have no money at stake). For children s programming UPN plans to start a Sunday morning cartoon block. Even though they don t have the cartoon credentials that WB has, I think they will survive on their time slot for a while. There s no cartoon on Sunday morning and I think there s a real demand for it. I say for a while because I think WB will program against UPN on Sunday mornings after a while.
There s no question that Fox has already survived. Will WB and UPN? Or even CBS for that matter. Here s my ten year, take it to the bank not me, prediction of the network rankings in order from best to worst. NBC, FOX, ABC, UPN, WB, CBS. I think in order to be a successful network, you need to have strong programs all around. That is why NBC will remain on top. It has strong shows in late night (Leno, Conan), prime time (ER, Friends etc…) , Sports (basketball and football) and daytime (Regis and Kathy Lee, soaps). Fox is coming on strong right now acquiring some sports, but I don t think they have the prime time line or abundance of shows that NBC has. I think that their is room for four networks. Sorry WB and CBS. I think UPN will conquer WB in the prime time hours, but WB will win the cartoon wars (reasons above). The cartoon hours aren t going to do it for the network though. If WB wants to be successful they need a strong couple of shows, maybe some spin-off s like UPN is trying. As for CBS. All I see (C) is B.S.