Tombers is the President of Intermat,
Inc., a consulting practice that specializes in the intersection
of media, technology and marketing. For two years, he produced
the Emmys on the Web and supervised web related activities for
the Academy, including for the 50th Anniversary year of the
Emmy Awards. In addition to its consulting engagements, Intermat
recently sold METEORS TALE, an unpublished novel by Michael
ORourke, to Animal Planet for development as a television
movie. Visit his
web site at http://www.intermat.tv
The Challenge of Television
Well, here in Washington, D.C. this Thursday evening, after
a long day of meetings about the future of television, it
is snowing. Lightly now. But the cancellations are already
coming in for schools and before we left our meetings we made
a snow plan. D.C. does not deal well with snow. It literally
freezes up; everyone heads for home or stays there if it has
the decency to start to snow at night, like tonight.
But what I think I should be telling you about is the future
of television. It s not that I know for sure what it
is. In fact, I have only a glimmer of what the future is like
No one really does. But its nice that Ive been
right about a couple of things in the past. Back in the long
ago days of 1985 when cable was young, I boldly stated that
by the turn of the century cable viewing would be larger than
broadcast viewing. Okay, so it took an extra three years but
it did happen this year.
I help people develop and sell ideas for television. Yesterday,
I had to tell a person who has produced dozens of hours of
programming that his ideas are much too dense for cable networks.
In other words, they are much too much like PBS programs of
fifteen years ago and, honestly, I dont know anyone
today who would devote several hours to the development of
To my way of thinking, thats a little sad. I would like
to think someone would do that but I dont know who.
Yesterday I was in a meeting with a senior executive of one
of the cable networks with a wonderful producer with whom
I work who has a project based on the work of a photographer
in Cuba. We werent there to sell it; it just came up
as part of the conversation. We were also looking for her
advice on where to take it.S
She didnt have any advice. Once upon a time, she thought,
it would have been a PBS program but not today. Today there
is almost no place for alternative fare. PBS wants
it stuff to be a lot more like cable today than what we traditionally
think of as PBS at least thats what the consensus
seems to be.
It might not be that way always but it is today.
Look, everyone is pushed for money and so they squeeze their
producers who attempt to do as much with even less than they
had before. And they are grabbing after new technologies to
drive down the cost.
Its a cruel cycle were in and it will definitely
get more challenging before it gets any better.
[Challenging was the word used when I worked at
Discovery to describe a REALLY difficult situation.]
The choices keep growing, the budgets keep shrinking, and,
as my friend Medora said: there is no deal too weird to consider.
Personally, I find it a bit discouraging. The things I generally
love on television are harder to find than they were a generation
ago. Cable, which was a lovely, quirky, growing, exciting
business in the 80 and the 90s is now faced
with supporting the businesses that grew up around their surprising
successes. Some networks peaked and thought they didnt
need to do much more and now theyre faced with slow
decline. So they are scrambling to re-define themselves. Others
created business empires and find themselves under business
and financial pressures that preclude the creativity that
made them what they were because they have businesses to support.
On the other hand, in adversity there is opportunity. I just
need to find it. As do we all, all of us who work in television.