If you’re paying attention to the trends being talked about in tech blogs and on social media, you might be led to believe that traditional television is dead, and that streaming services like Netflix will soon have a total monopoly over people’s viewing habits. And certainly, the streamers are thriving—there’s no doubt about that. But if you look closer, there’s also substantial evidence that the old network TV companies are still going strong. Don’t believe it? All you have to do is follow the money.
The New York Times reported that industry insiders have big expectations for this week’s “upfront” presentations, an annual ritual in which network TV organizations get together with major advertisers and make blockbuster deals that bring big revenue for the networks. The upfronts are a chance for TV executives to trot out their stars and show off the hit new shows they’re getting ready to unveil. Even now, advertisers tend to throw big money at the networks. Last year the major TV networks—ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC—made a combined $9 billion at the meetings, while cable channels all told reeled in over $11 billion. That figure has actually increased in each of the last three years.
The upfronts are a proven commodity, giving advertisers a chance to lock down great commercial time slots early in the bidding process.
“It truly is a financial model,” Lyle Schwartz of ad-buying firm GroupM told the Times. “It’s better to get involved early on.”
Based on the ad revenues TV networks have raked in, it seems clear that any reports of the medium’s death were premature. Streaming services are obviously a major phenomenon, but network TV remains relevant to the modern American economy. Advertising on TV networks is still the most effective way for big brands to reach millions of people with their message in real time. As the Times noted, the ad industry still believes in the standard 30-second commercial’s ability to reach the broadest possible swath of consumers.
While many networks have seen decreased viewership in the Netflix era, there are still plenty of instances where live TV can’t be beat, including sporting events and other major live broadcasts like the Oscars. Audiences on streaming sites remain fragmented, both demographically and in terms of when they watch; with live TV, there are still large and wide-ranging groups of Americans that are reachable in real time.
“If you look at it in those terms—a brand-safe environment, with no fraud and a guaranteed audience in the demo—maybe network TV is a little bit underpriced,” Schwartz said.