Disappearing channel scarcity

Just had brunch with my new friend Bob. He’s in the TV business.

Twenty years ago, everyone in the TV business believed in the three channel universe. Cable was a myth. That’s why the big networks did such a bad job of starting cable networks. They couldn’t believe that it was even remotely likely to succeed.

Of course, the first 20 channels did succeed. In a very, very big way. Billions of dollars worth of success.

It took about a decade, but the tv business recalibrated. They now believe that we have reached the natural number of networks and that’s it.

What happens, I asked, when Tivo has Java and TCP/IP and there’s a million channels?

The people in the TV business can’t imagine this. They can’t imagine a world where there might be 20 A&E networks, or where there might be a channel just for shows on how to build a model airplane.

XM radio and the Net just increased the number of radio stations by a factor of 100.

And today the NY Times reports that 175,000 books are published every year. And rising.

And we just hit 3,000,000 blogs, up from 100 five years ago.

The number of channels for just about anything keeps going up. The number of GOOD channels, where good means a built in high traffic audience that is non-discerning, keeps going down. The number of good newspaper PR outlets is down to a handful. The number of retailers with shelf space that really matters is tiny. Yes, you can get your thing out there. No, you can’t expect that distribution (or carriage, as they say in TV) is going to make you successful.

In other words, owning a printing press is not such a big deal. Knowing the buyer at Bed Beth & Beyond isn’t much better.