Network System

Today’s post is directed at broadcast network TPTB. I don’t expect that anyone of them will ever read it, but they SHOULD because they clearly need a reminder.

Beginnings of the Network

The network system is not something that is divinely ordained. The network system developed on radio stations because it made sense for the INDIVIDUAL STATIONS. When radio first started every individual station paid for all its own programming. The way news is handled locally today used to be true for everything from talk shows to comedies to dramas. However, someone got the bright idea that if station A and station B aired the same dramas in different areas they could pool their resources and save money. Eventually this led to the creation of national networks once the technology reached the point where shows could be shared nationally.

Networks Turn to Television and Learns Loyalty

These networks included NBC and CBS and naturally enough when TV was invented, it was built on the earlier system. As networks competed the important part became not merely the saving money, but the loyalty factor. It was all well and good to have an individual show be it a game show or talk show or drama that did well by itself, but the true test was whether the popularity of that individual show would get you tuning back in to that network for other shows. It was especially important that if there were two shows of average quality what would give one network the edge over the other.

What makes viewers loyal? What shows make you more likely turn into other shows on the same network, especially the news shows? That type of loyalty exists only with soaps. Miss a day of a talk show or a game show and who cares? It will be around again and even if it doesn’t only extremely rarely does it effect your enjoyment of watching the show the next day. However, soap fans take on an incredible sense of loyalty. The soaps are “their shows” and they air on “their network.”

Up until the latest soap decimation where four of the remaining shows were callously tossed aside, you still heard fans describing themselves as ABC soap fans or CBS soap fans. There was an identification with network that I’ve never heard from fans of other types of shows. You don’t hear people claim to be NBC basketball fans or ABC game show fans. They could care less which network their show airs on. It’s the individual show that’s important. This is shown through viewing patterns. On some level broadcast executives know this. It’s why they continue to add hours to the Today Show even though the sets, content, and official hosts change because they know that as soon as the show is over viewers will feel freer to change channels.  However, TPTB don’t seem to be showing an awareness of the value of the loyalty that soap opera block creates. By destroying these blocks they are destroying that built in loyalty. For years I watched the CBS Morning Show (and unlike a lot of people I actually was selected as a Nielsen household on 2 separate occasions and duly reported it) no matter how bad it got – and it got bad, REALLY BAD. However, I didn’t even try the ABC or NBC alternatives because CBS was my network. In my family because of soaps we watched whatever was on our local CBS affiliate all day. We’d change it during primetime, but even then we’d normally turn to CBS first and give them first shot at engaging us. I know other soap fans say similar things about ABC or NBC. By destroying the daytime soap block the networks have chosen short run cheapness over loyalty and it’s loyalty that gives belonging to a network value to the affiliates. By replacing soaps with knock offs of things easily duplicated for even cheaper amounts by syndicators (who directly sell shows to affiliates), networks have thrown that loyalty overboard and if it’s just a matter of cheapness what real benefit does an individual affiliate station get over showing The Talk or The Chew than Judge Judy? Especially since Judge Judy comes without having prepaid network advertising whose profits go to the networks and not the affiliates. Right now it’s loyalty and inertia that keep affiliates in network and they don’t have to be. The vast majority of affiliates aren’t owned by the network, but by private independent companies or people. Right now many local channels exist and make a profit without being the affiliate of a major network. Some exist and are profitable without being an affiliate of even a minor network that only provides network material for a very limited part of the day.

Changes Are Coming

I am no longer afraid for the soap genre. It may change, but it’s going to continue and even if it would die, like a soap character (since soaps don’t need much in the way of special skills or infrastructure which makes the western and full scale musical hard to restart) it could easily rise again the way sitcoms, doctor, and lawyer shows periodically fall out of fashion and then reappear. However, I really think that the broadcast networks have gotten so concerned about their own problems that they’ve failed to take into account that a lot of how they work is dependent on local affiliates. Independently owned affiliates that valued networks for the loyalty that soaps built. Without out that loyalty that networks have callously tossed aside, who needs a network? Not most affiliates. I think some future media historian, perhaps one that is already writing today, will ascribe April 1, 2009 (the day CBS announced the cancellation of Guiding Light) not as the final death knell of the soap opera, but of the broadcast network, unless they change their ways and quickly and I don’t hold out much hope of that happening.

Updated April 30, 2016: I added the signature block, broke a couple of paragraphs, and added headings.

Revisiting this I’d like to also point out that since this was posted, I’m more sure of the trueness than ever. Developments with Netflix, Hulu, Amazon TV, etc. are further sowing the seeds of network destruction.

Robansuefarm is the handle of one of Manny and Guiding Light‘s biggest fans following in her family’s footsteps of Guiding Light fandom since 1939. This blog is an effort to make it easy to find Guiding Light and especially Manny online. Check back here for her blog, find fanfic previews and fake WSPR newscasts on her YouTube, find podcasts that look back to old shows and audios of her fanfics on Blog Talk Radio, and finally follow her on Twitter and Facebook.


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3 Responses to “Network System”

  1. Radio Networks « Glmanny's Blog Says:

    […] I’ve described the Network System, explained its history and importance today in a previous post. […]

  2. Soap Rating Up « Glmanny's Blog Says:

    […] I still think broadcast networks signed their own death warrants the day the last wave of cancellations started with Guiding Light (April 1, 2009), (the soap opera genre will survive) but maybe there is still time for the networks to recognize that they can’t win a fight to be the cheapest provider and need a different game plan. That could very well mean either the return in some format of previous soaps or the launch of new ones which while not as good as getting the classics back, might help establish the medium as one defined in the twenty-first century. I hope Carroll is right. […]

  3. glmanny Says:

    Reblogged this on Glmanny's Blog and commented:

    Revisiting a look at how the network system actually works and the role soaps play or played in it.

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