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Just Like GM, NBC is No Longer Relevant

By Jason Kasperski, Entertainment Editor, MostMost.Net

In a sign that the economy may be turning around, General Motors just announced they are going to make a $4.7 billion payment to the government two months ahead of schedule. Sales are up 13% over last year, and they have already paid back a cool $2 billion from the initial auto industry relief loan. However, the company is still indebted to the Feds for over $50 billion.

Recently, media titan NBC/Universal was sold to cable giant Comcast in an effort by General Electric to shore up their bottom line and get out of the television and filmed entertainment business. More accurately, they no longer wanted to be in the ‘NBC business.’

General Motors and NBC have little in common on the surface. One makes cars, and the other broadcasts ‘The Office.’ But they share one, big problem that affects many companies across the economic spectrum.

Their brands are so last century.

The public knows this, and for the past 10 years they’ve been avoiding GM and NBC like the plague. It highlights a conundrum of this new economy that some of us have to deal with. What do you do when your brand is obsolete?

There is much to be said about the cache and familiarity of such brands. General Motors still has Buick, Chevy and Cadillac. NBC has ‘The Office’, ’30 Rock’ and ‘The Biggest Loser’. None of these are setting sales records or hitting Nielsen high marks. The reality is, GM filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009 and NBC is now a fourth place network.

Automobile manufacturers in the United States have been up against a rock as long as I have been on this planet. Broadcast networks have only recently hit the skids. Unlike NBC, General Motors is in a state of almost complete insolvency. But instead of infusing foreign or domestic capital, it was mortgaged off to the United States government and the taxpayers, and now we’re propping up a brand that has outlived its usefulness.

Honda and Mazda have mastered the art of dependability and fuel efficiency while Toyota, if they ever get their act back together, offers hybrid technology that can run a car even further on a gallon of gas. The market, in other words, passed GM a few decades back. You can blame the unions and bad management all you want, but the real reason that GM is dead is that no one wants to buy their cars anymore. They are bland, not very well designed, and get horrible performance reviews online.

Which brings us back to NBC and network television. It’s also bland. Their individual shows and collective line-ups are not ‘designed’ for the modern viewing audience. Compared to HBO, AMC and other basic cable outlets, their programming gets terrible reviews. NBC wallows in last place among the big four broadcast networks and that’s not even taking into account the problems they have with their late night television line up and the foundering news division.

The other three broadcast networks are in similar waters. CBS is fine for now, but their viewers are aging and might just, well, vanish. It’s been rumored that Disney is floating the idea of selling off ABC (if there are any takers). Fox does a decent job of spreading the brand to their cable networks and the internet, but just look at where Conan O’Brien wound up? One of the other three? No, he went to TBS, a small, nimble cable network that looks to expand its youthful viewership. Odds are that half of Conan’s viewers won’t even watch him at 11:00 when he airs, they are going to check out the show on laptops or iPads when they feel like it.

Today there are too many higher-value options available to consumers. NBC is in the same sinkhole that doomed GM labels like Oldsmobile and Pontiac. They just don’t matter anymore. People are transient with their media tastes today, and rarely stick with a series beyond a few episodes. Most Americans have access to 500 cable or satellite channels, and that’s not including all of the viewing options now available on the internet. It’s sounds like an old song, but the reality is here right now. Almost a million households last year gave up — completely just GAVE UP – on not only broadcast television, but cable and dish as well, to watch exclusively on the internet. For free. These viewers are not coming back. Just like American auto consumers are not coming back to GM when all this smoke clears. They want more value.

You could say NBC is just too big to vanish, but is it really?

All this scares me for the future. We’re told on a regular basis, in the workplace, or in the classroom, that in order to thrive today we need to create our own brand. Brand ‘Me’. Set up a website, stick your picture on it dressed in a nice suit, maybe a tie, performing some important function for society. I see a lot of people out there, mostly folks affected by the stagnant economy, doing this in order to sell themselves.

That’s all fine and great, but I haven’t jumped into those waters yet. What happens when all of our personal brands become obsolete? Can I get some troubled asset relief to prop up my dying brand? Or, like NBC, am I really the next Pontiac?

Posted on Wednesday, April 21st, 2010 Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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