What is Must-See TV?

The Future of TV, a recent report from industry analysts at Needham & Company, assesses the ability of internet video companies (e.g., Netflix, YouTube, Hulu) to unseat the incumbent TV titans (e.g., our Society’s “partners” at News Corp).

Here’s one item that caught our eye:

Figure 4 captures the responses to our question, “Please list which TV channels you must have available online for you to turn off your TV subscription.” We did not give respondents a list of TV channels, so their responses were unaided.

must see tv

Discovery comes in 6th, while the National Geographic Channel is… nowhere to be found. Could that be one reason the National Geographic Channel is producing this (suicide) stunt?

Alex Honnold skyscraper climb

After all, there’s nothing quite like producing a global television event featuring the possible death of a young adrenaline junkie to get folks talking about your media brand.

Read the whole report from Needham & Company here.

  • No

    DIdn’t discovery do wallenda? Amish Mafia? Moonshiners? you think they are better??

    • You’re right: Discovery did the Wallenda Skywire stunt. And it doesn’t surprise me they did. I have little to no expectations for what Discovery puts on the air. But I do have some expectations about what National Geographic produces.

  • Guest

    Actually it seems to work the other way. The tightrope walk clearly pushed Discovery to #6 and Pawn Stars made History top 10. So shouldn’t Nat Geo Channel be doing more of the same? How is climbing a building more dangerous like walking across the Grand Canyon?

    Somehow I think that’s not the issue at all.

    • That’s a good question: Should National Geographic produce more tabloid TV? My answer is No. What’s your answer?

      • guest

        Actually, not the question and no they shouldn’t. But you put out the theory that NGC is not Must See because of the climb thing, which is ridiculous. Your point seems to be that NGC should be Must See. So the question is, not your leading question, but how does NGC become a Must See Network?

        So I, gasp, used some critical thinking and looked at other, similar networks to NGC and thought about what they did. I happen to think NGC shouldn’t strive to be on this list- this is a popularity contest pure and simple and the lowest common denominator wins (or in the case of HBO and Showtime, those with the most nudity and violence). ts not a quality contest.

        I think NGC should strive for much more than that, don’t you Alan or is it all about being the most popular/Must-See?

        As for live climb – no different than when NG Magazine covers free climbers out in the field (many of their iconic images are of mountain climbers hanging by a thread). Its okay to take stills, or film for later broadcast, but its not okay to broadcast it live or its back to Gladiator days according to you and Jan. Double standard. I want to see this guy climb LIVE, i can’t go where he goes, but he’s amazing. – that doesn’t make me a bloodthirsty animal, its his choice and given he’s a pro, he wouldn’t do it unless the odds were in his favor. There’s always that chance, of course, but look at football, racing, X Games – many deaths in these sports- i guess since Alex is an individual and not run by some giant professional sports corporation that its not okay.

        • Here’s my point: If you build a business model that relies almost entirely upon your cable TV channel to survive, and you do that at a moment when viewers will no longer be forced to pay for bundled cable channels, then you better be sure you’re a top-tier channel. If John Fahey had a way to do this without serving up stunts like See Alex Die, Maybe — well, I imagine he’d do so. But the Fox deal & the tabloid approach is all he has in his quiver, so that’s all you’re going to see.

          You say “lowest common denominator wins.” I’m sorry, but who exactly is the winner you have in mind?

          Re: “no different than when NG Magazine covers free climbers out in the field” — really? you see no difference? If so, let me explain. A magazine story doesn’t play out in real time. It’s an edited version of events. If someone dies during a mountain climb, then there are many ways of reporting on the death. But with Alex Honnold on a skyscraper, live, well, the options are much more limited. And the fact is that people are tuning in to see Alex die. When he free climbs Half Dome in the Magazine, the deed is already done — and there aren’t any corpses on the ground.

          All that said, I’ve always loathed the mountain climbing stories in NGM, and was delighted when NG’s Adventure magazine launched because it took the onus off NGM to publish that pap. Interesting to note that Adventure still died (in print, anyway), which suggests there’s a limited appetite for this stuff.

          Re: “look at football.. many deaths” — really? Name 5 players that died on the football field? … Now compare your (empty) list with this excerpt from Cliffhangers: The Fatal Descent of the Mountain Climbing Memoir: http://societymatters.org/2012/04/18/death-the-ipad-app/ As Bruce Barcott says: “Unlike any other sport, mountaineering demands that its players die.”

          John Fahey & the National Geographic Society is planning on making money off the possible death of Alex Honnold. That’s awful.

          • Guest

            High school football player just died like 2 days ago after a routine tackle – way to keep up with the news. NFL – just one Chuck Hughes, happened in the 70s. So, there’s at least one, guess that takes of your awesome bolding, but nice touch. Average of 12 high school and college players die each year: http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/average-12-school-football-players-die-year-study-article-1.1309671.

            Ah, but they don’t die live on air! Not my point, point is the risk & the blame. Not saying its more dangerous, just saying people take risks in all kinds of sports, that’s their choice. Many like you (and I) don’t live that way and can’t understand it – but the difference is I’m not judging them. You want to put the blame on NGC, i put it on Alex- his choice, his life – and he takes it in his hands with every climb.

            Please don’t assume you can speak for all viewers. All viewers aren’t tuning in to see him die – if that were true, the only ratings Discovery would have had would be for the walk itself – but millions tuned in before and after. Sure, there are some sadistic people out there, no doubt, but there are more rooting for him. No wonder you are so down on NGS given how little you think of the American public. I find your comment insulting, elitist and telling of your disdain for anything that doesn’t fit into your worldview. Egocentric people are tiring.

            Clearly we’re never going to agree on this – I don’t believe hiding behind a camera and a magazine article makes it better than showing it live. I’m certain, like most live events, there will be a delay – still will be horrific to see him fall, but there won’t be a corpse on the ground.

            I also love that you used NG Adventure as an example of how it took the onus off NGM. Which is in direct opposition of the one-brand argument you continue to make. If it was in Adventure, its part of the brand, so no ‘onus’ should be off, right? I happen to agree, ironically about the onus being off, which is also why i don’t think what NGC doing is as dire as you make it out to be. I just find it funny that you used this argument – i’m sure you’ll have some convoluted reason why.

            Well, the new CEO can figure out the new model for NGS. I don’t think they meant to rely on the cable channel, i think they just got lazy and used to the money rolling in from NGC (I don’t think we’re at the ‘moment’ of de-bundling, however, but things are a-changing). NGS wasn’t minding the store and by the time they started to realize things were crumbling around them, it was too late. Fire a bunch of long time execs and get a new CEO in. There’s still plenty of time to right the NGS ship- new CEO seems like a low-risk option, hope he has some ideas for the place.

          • You make some really excellent points. Like the study which showed the average number of football players (12) who die each year. One key fact you omitted: “Their study found heart conditions, heat and other non-traumatic causes of death are twice as common as injury-related ones.” Which makes my point, not yours. … So too does the fact that one (1) pro player died during a game back in the 1970s. Or as Bruce Barcott said: “Unlike any other sport, mountaineering demands that its players die.”

            You write: “the difference is I’m not judging them. You want to put the blame on NGC, i put it on Alex…” If Alex wants to kill himself, I can’t stop him. But I see no reason why the Society (and society) of which I’m a member should enable his suicidal behavior. … People also choose to risk their lives by mainlining heroin. It’s their choice (then their addiction). National Geographic takes great pleasure and profit from documenting this behavior on shows like Drugs Inc. … Now imagine we pay drug addicts to get high, live on air, and we supply the drugs and monetize the event. Your thoughts? … Prostitution. Legal in Nevada. How about we set up a NG Bordello, and then do a reality TV show around that. Applying your logic (people are different! their choices may not be our choices!), what’s the argument against producing such shows? The only way would be to apply some [gasp] judgment!

            I find it amusing that you think I’m the one who looks down on the American public. To the contrary, I believe that it’s David Lyle & Co who looks down on them, and who play to the public’s basest instincts (and we all have them).

            You write: “I find your comment insulting, elitist and telling of your disdain for anything that doesn’t fit into your worldview.” I have a worldview. It’s on display here for all to see. We all have worldviews. Now, try and articulate David Lyle’s worldview — and then explain why he couldn’t fully express it when he was running the Fox Reality Channel (now shuttered). … Put another way: I’m with Tom Shales.

            Re: Adventure magazine — let me clarify. Adventure launched when I was working at NGM, and when I still had to contribute to mountain climbing & ice climbing stories. I remember interviewing one ice climber. Me: Well, Pete, it really does matter if you get off that pitch of ice and make it home to see your wife and kids, and have a beer with your buddies. Your life matters. You matter! Pete: That’s still an open question. Me: Really??. … To me, that sounded like a guy who needed a psychiatrist or anti-depressants, not another grant from Chris Johns to play suicide games.

            And make no mistake: That’s what these guys are toying with. Life & death. That, for them, is the excitement. Fuck up on the mountain… make one wrong move, and you’re dead. Whereas in their day-to-day lives, they’re immensely bored. Wake up, shuffle some papers, mosey on home. I heard that general explanation from countless climbers. It’s a fascinating critique of modern life — people’s general boredom and feeling that their lives are of no consequence — but that doesn’t mean NGS should underwrite their suicidal tendencies. But John Fahey & David Lyle do. Why? Because they have no other ideas to keep the lights on.

            So, again, re: Adventure — I was happy because, for a while, it relieved NGM from publishing that junk. But I was even happier to see the print version disappear.

            Re: “they just got lazy” — absolutely. Now that John Fahey has hired Gary Knell, he’s essentially said: I’ve done the lazy part. Now someone else can figure out how to do the heavy lifting.

            Re: there’s “still time to right the NGS ship” — I agree. That’s why I’m still doing this.

            Thanks for pushing back, and for your comments.

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