Everyone's trying to swim in the other guy's pool
When I criticized Dan Patrick for conducting a puffball interview with Charlie Sheen at the height of his Tiger-blood-infused public meltdown, the sports radio/TV host huffily responded by saying he could do my job, while I couldn’t do his.
One can debate Patrick’s merits as a writer, but let’s stipulate I couldn’t replace him on radio or TV, which represents a different skill set (although I do feel perfectly qualified to call out a lousy interview when I see one). Yet given the current tides — in which print and video are increasingly overlapping — those who observe such divisions appear to be a decided minority.
This is, to say the least, an interesting time in media circles, with everyone trying to swim in the other guy’s pool, as print outlets dabble in producing video content, and video producers post stories.
Examples of this are numerous, but a few prominent ones come to mind, including the decision confirmed this week to rebrand what was G4 as the Esquire Network, seeking to transform the channel into a version of the magazine and “bring the iconic men’s brand to television as the definitive network for the modern, multi-faceted man.”
The NBC Universal-Hearst Magazines partnership follows Conde Nast — publisher of such titles as Vanity Fair and the New Yorker — triggering a mini-furor by revising its contracts with writers, claiming relatively inexpensive options on articles the company’s entertainment unit might wish to try adapting into movies or TV programs.
Also, the Huffington Post has launched its own version of a TV news network, HuffPost Live, which capitalizes on online chat capabilities to conduct interviews and discussions vaguely resembling what one might see on MSNBC, only the cheap.
As for the converse, one can argue Oprah Winfrey’s syndicated TV show helped birth her magazine, which in turn informed the niche occupied (whatever its well-documented fits and starts) by her eponymous cable network.
If all this sounds exciting and promising — creating one big content-producing soup — let’s not forget the relationship between print and TV has often been a bit like the old farmer’s adage about mixing cattle and sheep. Yes, they share similarities, but it’s wise to remember they’re different animals.
Because while these companies are exploring multiple sides of digital content delivery — in Esquire’s case, seeking to “capture the essence of the magazine” without seeking to replicate it on TV, as Hearst Magazines chief David Carey told the New York Times — others have had their noses bloodied in attempting to navigate this new course.
Nobody was more bullish about combining TV and newspaper assets than Tribune Co., which made such twin-outlet configurations in Los Angeles, Chicago and the New York area the synergistic centerpiece of its Times Mirror acquisition in 2000. A harrowing journey into bankruptcy and the Sam Zell nightmare later, and the company is examining ways to potentially shed holdings, with relatively little talk about what the great advantages to be culled, say, from owning the Los Angeles Times and KTLA.
Similarly, News Corp.’s newspaper scandals and the prevailing sense those holdings were a drag on the company’s stock price finally inspired chairman Rupert Murdoch to relent and split his company in two, separating print assets from the Fox Group. It’s telling, too, the mogul opted not to include Fox News Channel in the new entity, despite the natural ideological alliance and resource-sharing possibilities between the network and publications like the Wall Street Journal and New York Post.
Given the economic pressures publishers face, it’s not surprising they’d begin casting about for ancillary businesses to help defray their reliance on print advertising.
Still, the challenge in translating print to TV (anyone else remember the syndicated “USA Today on TV?” Thought not), or vice versa, has often flummoxed the best minds in both media.
The flow and consumption of content continues to evolve, and drawing on the prestige and brand equity of print franchises might be an idea whose time has come. Either that, or it’s going to be another one of those instances where a bright idea — pardon the expression — looked a whole lot better on paper.