What SHOULD Happen In 2024. And A Prayer One Thing Doesn’t.

Like it or not, we’ve somehow made it face-to-face with 2024.  I suppose given the alternative it’s far, far better to be waking up with a fresh calendar and fresh start than not, although on plenty of days I’m hard pressed to be overly exurberant about it.  Especially since so many have been such dire predictions of what may await us as this new year unfolds.

The media pundits are especially snarky and unnerving, especially given the twelvemonth we’ve just endured.  If you’re a creator, you’re coming to grips with the reality that the gains you fought so doggedly for by spending the heart of 2023 picketing and protesting are essentially being undone by the fact that the companies you need to say yes have collectedly begun to realize they really don’t need to greenlight as much as they used to, not at those prices, at least. If millions will watch de facto repeats, both of streaming originals being repurposed and the recent and classic actual repeats that now seem to make up the majority of the schedules of what used to be aggresively programmed cable networks (and, for that matter, Netflix), then honestly, who needs you?  With a couple of more months of patchwork scheduling in the highest media usage months ahead for the most part, with more evidence that old and cheap is quite cost-effective, don’t think more second and third-guessing won’t be occurring even as people wake up from their self-imposed holiday slumber to start pitching like mad.

And as DEADLINE’s Nellie Andreeva reported last week, the most immediate fallout from the essentially wasted 2023 is that a great deal of what was going to premiere then has been pushed back to launch this year or later.  That’s especially true in TV, and trickles down to movies as well.  And what is indeed in demand, more than ever, will need to have as much of a “guarantee” for success for outlets to even be motivated to listen.  You oughta have a big, buzzworthy name attached.  It sure helps if you’re a spinoff of something that’s working.  Yeah, why should any lessons be learned by the breakout successes of the creative gambles taken by the makers of BARBIE and OPPENHEIMER?  That same studio is spinning like a top touting the “success” of its newest iterations of the WONKA and AQUAMAN franchises, and they spent Christmas week hiring bankers to do due diligence on absorbing the Paramount Global assets into their portfolio, taking full advantage of a one-time giant in even more dire straits than they are.

And politics?  Well, those of you so interested–and capable–can read the polls.  You can listen to the protests, the urgency, the desperation, from both sides and from multiple constituencies.  That’s, of course, if you’re not so dug in to your own bunkers that you literally can’t even grasp what they’re telling us.  And in a matter of days, we’re gonna start to find out once and for all if indeed enough sane, normal thinkers will be able to rise up in strong enough numbers, and figure out ways to fight fire with fire, to stop what is inarguably the most determined “populist” movement of our lifetimes.

So with a backdrop like that, it’s increasingly difficult for someone like moi to be overly optimistic about making any sort of definitive predictions for what’s ahead.  Besides, as those of you who read yesterday’s musing already know, my scorecard wasn’t exactly robust.

But I will take some stabs at what SHOULD happen, given both the facts at hand and the tea leaves in front of us.  So the following are as much wishes as they are prognostications.  Call me Nostradumbass.

— AT LEAST ONE MAJOR NETWORK WILL BE SHUT DOWN OR RADICALLY CHANGED.  The annual Michael Schneider VARIETY! scorecard that shows the double-digit declines year over year of some of the most storied names in media can’t be ignored.  If you didn’t watch a majority of those 154 measured networks, don’t be discouraged–given those numbers, not to mention the fact their availability is anything but uniform or ubiquitous, the likelihood you did is as diminished as ever.  And while some companies–most recently, the aforementioned Paramount Global in their New Year’s Eve re-up with Comcast,  are still leveraging what they can for carriage of their channels, others, like the Disney-Charter deal, are willing to sacrifice the footprints of less consequential and ignored networks.  Any network that on average is viewed by fewer people than will view a Tik Tok video would fall under that definition.

But as for a candidate for which one will shutter, I’ll throw one out there you might have forgotten about, and, more than ever, it seems even their partners have as well.  Remember My Network TV?  It still technically exists, though it’s little more than an aggregate window for shows that Universal Television distributes in syndication, on cable networks and yes, even on Peacock.   The FOX duopoly stations, the ones that once made up the foundation of UPN, used to have that brand, the brainstorm of a massive Murdoch error in judgement that thought that buying My Space was as effective in creating a portal internet business as their failed attempt to buy Yahoo!.  But they’re even beginning to change that, let alone shed their call letters, at least publicly.  What used to be WDCA Washington is now FOX 5 Plus, because, of course, even the concept of a Channel 20 is technically inaccurate in a digital world.  More recently, KCOP Los Angeles has become slugged as FOX 11 Plus.  Sure, hopping on the bandwagon of “plus” is no less johnny-come-lately a marketing hail mary as “My Network” has been. But, honestly, would anyone now actually miss it if the brand simply goes away?  Will anyone who is a fan of CHICAGO FIRE or DATELINE repeats not be able to find those shows without the brand overlay?  It’s not “My Network”, it’s THEIR network.  That’s my choice for extinction.

— AT LEAST ONE PHYSICAL NEWSPAPER OR MAGAZINE WILL CEASE PRINTING.  The January editions of monthly magazines and the New Year’s weekend edition of local newspapers used to be massive, chock full of ads and incentives.  What I toted in from my doorstep yesterday were no bigger than any other week’s, and, given the dearth of news taking place over the holidays, actually somewhat smaller.   The Left Angeles TIMES had exactly one four-page insert in my edition.  And I’m apparently now the only one in my building who still receives it–assuming my delivery person doesn’t oversleep, as he did twice last week.

But my candidate for extinction here is the one-time favorite of fantasy sports players and hotel guests, USA TODAY.  The financial grounds that parent company Gannett stands on now is shakier than ever.  They have long since dropped daily printed box scores.  While they still print standings, at least four days a week, they’re inconsistent and never reflect the previous evening’s games.  Rarely does any section besides the main one exceed four pages.  And you try finding anyplace beyond an occasional 7 Eleven that still carries it.  Even Hudson News outlets in airports don’t always have them.  It’s gotten so bad even the separate app that supported the e-newspaper has been folded into the main one that houses the digital iterations. Those are very daunting tea leaves to me.

ESPN SHOULD REPLACE AT LEAST ONE OF ITS NETWORKS WITH ESPNW.  Yes, there are still multiple ESPN linear networks.  They’re also dipping their toes into FAST channels, what was just an April Fool’s joke, ESPN The Ocho, is now a dedicated outlet that will house the cornholing library that made up the mother ship’s schedule during the earliest days of the pandemic.  ESPNU and ESPNews actually are still programmed; ESPNU actually is still rated by Nielsen.  It came in tied for 120th on Schneider’s list, BTW.

Yet their programming, let alone their competitors’, are becoming increasingly buttressed by the appeal of women’s sports.  Last March, a semifinal Women’s Final Four tilt drew nearly 10 million viewers on a Sunday afternoon to ABC.  Last month, the NCAA women’s volleyball championship game drew nearly 2 million viewers against pro football; the Nebraska team that competed drew more than 90,000 fans to an outdoor match against nearby rival Omaha at the season’s outset.  The Women’s World Cup, and the NWSL season that followed it, drew strong audiences for FOX, Telemundo, Peacock and Paramount+, and even CBS got on the bandwagon with a championship game that was at least on broadcast TV, unlike the MLS tilt.

And to start the year today, we’re seeing the launch of the Professional Women’s Hockey League, with Toronto hosting New York.  Don’t ask about nicknames or logos; those are immaterial, for now.  What is important is the same money behind the Los Angeles Dodgers, who just dropped more than a billion dollars to sign three new players, and the passion of one Billie Jean King, arguably the most iconic female sports personality of our time (and a personal friend of the Walter family that is behind the PWHL) are connected with this launch, which is far more stability and credibility than previous attempts to start a North American professional women’s league have had.  And don’t get me started about the demographic sweet spot this will hit.

The PWHL needs a national linear TV home in the US.  There’s a lot of empirical evidence that other women’s sports are working.  ESPN saw ratings climb again for the WNBA, a league that will finally be expanding next year.  They have the espnW brand online to use seamlessly.  To me, swapping out ESPNU for this is a no-brainer.  And if they’re too reluctant to do so, hey, FOX Sports, you’ve got an FS2 that could use a refresh.  They drew half of ESPNU’s average audience and ranked 138th.

WE MIGHT KNOW WHO WILL BE RUNNING THIS COUNTRY BEYOND THIS YEAR BY NEXT JANUARY 1.  But honestly, I’m skeptical.  I’m hard pressed to believe that either side will accept whatever verdict emerges on November 8th.  And this is not about what I think, to be sure.  That’s clearly besides the point, especially since I’m in no position to contribute a penny and I can’t convince any candidate to bring me on actually help them make better choices and conclusions.  And sorry, Democrats, you need people like me far more than those you compete with.  They may not have the brighest bulbs in the lamp as their candidates, but they can clean your clocks with the caliber of intelligence that’s helping to foster their popularity.

So I’m actually predicting that contrary to what we saw in 2020 it will more likely be Democrats that will be challenging election results and vainly trying to question who indeed are the people’s choices.  Here’s hoping they’re not so deranged as to smear any public building’s walls with feces, but I wouldn’t put it past some of them to try and stage more than a few disruptice protests and launch a whole number of lawsuits.  And if the results of a relatively less polarizing election in 2000 could extend into December, with challenges and lawsuits aplenty from disbelieving Democrats driving those delays in one key state, I don’t put it past them to do the same and more this coming fall–and winter.

MANY WHO WERE LET GO BY MEDIA COMPANIES IN 2023 SHOULD FIND NEW DIRECTIONS AND GAINFUL EMPLOYMENT IN 2024. But there may be a silver lining to that dystopian thought.  The longer the decision process gets dragged out, the more that will be spent, or needed to be spent wisely, on media to sway voters, particularly if runoffs and restagings occur.  And, no, we’re not just talking about the big one.  Roughly half the planet will be voting in some sort of election in 2024, and here at home every state and local election will have national repercussions.  They’re GONNA need researchers, both to ACCURATELY survey voters and intellectually target the media outlets best suited to reach them.

So if the media industry is too damn busy flailing with contraction and pressure from Wall Street to keep those of us who have been able to properly advise for decades around, then perhaps those that say our talents can be redirected to industries that need it might be right.

Unlike last year, though, I’m not putting a prediction on how many WILL get that opportunity.  I’ve become convinced that there appears to be more motivation to do what’s seen as the politically correct thing to do rather than the intellectually wise thing.  Both in media and politics.  And, frankly, in a lot of other industries as well.

If I sound too defeatist at the outset of a new year filled with promise for you, my most humble apologies.  2023, at least for one, was as debilitating and as crushing a time as I’ve had on this earth with the possible exception of the end of 2019 and the first few months of 2020.  I’m at least willing to dry my tears and suck it up to at least give it all another go, with your indulgence, of course.

So rather than insist I’m gonna be spot on with my predictions, I’m merely gonna hope I am.  And I’m resolving to keep that attitude as long as you’ll be along to help support it.

Happy New Year.  From Nostradumbass To You And Yours.

Until next time…

 

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