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Weekly Features
Letter from New York
Mathew 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 In addition to its consulting engagements, Intermat recently sold METEOR’S TALE, an unpublished novel by Michael O’Rourke, to Animal Planet for development as a television movie. Visit his web site at

The Difficulty of Choices

Today I had a shocking thought – one I never thought I would entertain. In my office, working late, I decided I’d had enough of reviewing tapes and
thought I would drop in on the real world, see what was transpiring.

In my office, I have a brand new box for satellite television, DIRECT TV,
something I’ve wanted to play with and now I have the toy. But I am not
facile with it yet and so it took me about six minutes to find a news
channel – and then it was FOX. I was not ready for the O’Reilly Factor.
Working late requires news and information that is at least slightly less
strident than Mr. O’Reilly.

It took me another six or seven minutes to find another news network – justthe news. In my channel odyssey, I went through many iterations of MTV, something like ten Discovery Channels of one niche or another, CNNfn, an amazing array of ESPN’s that I never knew about [nor probably will ever watch]. I slipped through endless pay per view options, forty channels of music, a dizzying array of choices that would leave anyone over the age of fourteen breathless.

Why, say you among the cognoscenti, did he not go to the guide? Why did he not press that magic button? Because, ladies and gentlemen, I got sucked in, right down the whirlpool of choice. What were on these channels?

At the end, I know I breezed through more decorating teams than I thought there were houses in America. Imagine what some Afghani or Iraqi would say, if caught in my position?

It was then the shocking thought came to me: we have too MANY channels! I can’t do this? Can’t we go back to the days of only seventy channels? I yearn for seventy channels. There was HOPE when you had seventy channels that you might at least remember the numeric neighborhood of a network.

This is heretical thought for me! I am the one who has stood in the middle
of the room and shouted: More! More! Give me more! I have been,
unconsciously, of course, on my own holy media jihad! Smite down those old networks and embrace the new ones sprouting up at the great head end in the sky. Bring on as many as you can because in this new universe of choice, multiplicity and quality [remember the cable industry campaign: Keeping The Cable Promise?] no one, NO ONE, would ever again have to endure a sitcom like “My Mother, The Car.”

Ah, but in this bright new future I have helped create with my fervor over
the last twenty years, I have witnessed marvels of programming and personal soaring arcs of hope and pride at witnessing the blossoming of programming in the ‘90’s. A&E and Discovery [professional alma maters of mine] produced really great and innovative programming.

And I could find them!

This is a not unfocused rant I am on because my day, today, and prior to
finding I could not find the news; I spent my day with colleagues in the
business of television who were facing the repercussions of all these
choices – and how they were dealing with them. It is a whole new set of
challenges, and a set of challenges that many working today did not see
coming and weren’t prepared for.

The total dollars going into the television advertising system are growing
but that growing pot is being spent among ever more networks. Once there
were three broadcast networks and now there are seven. Once there was one women’s network and now there are three. Once there was ESPN and now there are many ESPN’s and the Golf Channel and the Tennis Channel and SpeedVision and a channel just for the Yankees.

Network executives focus on ratings because ratings bring advertisers;
forcing programmers to look for that lowest common denominator to drive
eyeballs to sets. Hence, Fear Factor, Jackass, the WWE and most of Fox.

Today, the brightest thing I heard in my travels was one of my colleagues
who said something like: may be it’s time for television to embrace a
different kind of model for building revenue than simply raising ratings to
raise rates.