Why TV is going bad fast

November 02, 1998|By Andy Rooney

THE TOTAL television audience is about the same as it has been for 20 years, but a smaller proportion of that audience is watching the three major commercial networks because there are many more television broadcasting companies. It's a case against free enterprise because competition has reduced quality. There's more to watch but it's worse.

It is my uninformed opinion that ratings are creeping down for commercial television because viewers aren't satisfied with what they're getting out of it. Whether it's information or entertainment, they go away feeling not quite satisfied.

No one sits in the living room with a stopwatch and times the actual program content of a network show, but many viewers vaguely sense they aren't getting their money's worth -- even from free TV. Commercials and other nonprogram material consume too much of the hour.

The three nightly network television news broadcasts, which are described as being "half hour" shows, are creeping down toward 20 minutes. That's why there's less news in them.

The additional bite out of the news broadcasts is devoted primarily to in-house promotional material for other shows on that network. Whatever it is, it comes out of the viewers' time and makes watching less worthwhile.

The popular and, you'll pardon me for saying, good, CBS broadcast "60 Minutes" is not close to being 60 minutes long. Network executives in charge of making money have snipped away at it for years, hoping no one would notice.

Twenty years ago, it was 48 minutes long. Ten years ago, it was 46. Just three years ago, it was 90 seconds longer than it is today, and they took another 30 seconds this year for added commercial time. Last week, "60 Minutes" lasted 44 minutes. How would that be for the title of the show: "44 Minutes"? While "60 Minutes" ratings are good in comparison with other shows, fewer people are watching it, too.

The great American appetite for watching sports on television is diminishing. It seemed to those of us who live in or near New York that the World Series was a smash hit because the Yankees were so good, but fewer people than ever watched this year's series.

The viewing audience of "Monday Night Football" is down by 9 percent from last year and advertisers are disappointed. Fox is having to make up $15 million in commercials because they played only four World Series games. The difference between four games and seven games for advertisers is huge, and it makes a sports fan worry that someone will try to make sure that never happens again.

Sports fans

I'm surprised that advertisers put as much faith in sports as they do. While most of us watch the Super Bowl, the World Series, the U.S. Open, the Masters', the Kentucky Derby, the NBA championship series and the Stanley Cup, we're real fans of only one or two sports.

Those of us who like football don't watch baseball day in and day out during the long season. We are not so much sports fans in general as we are sports specialists. There's one game we like and we tolerate a few others. I'm sure the Women's World Cup will draw huge numbers of fans of both women and soccer, but I will not be among them.

I like television. Why is it that all good things head in a bad direction?

Andy Rooney is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 11/02/98

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