Sadly, viewers are not TV’s “customers.”

Sadly, viewers are not TV’s “customers.“
Dan Gillmor makes a great point this morning in a blog note from the PC Forum. He catches Google CEO Eric Schmidt claiming his company’s customers are end users, not advertisers. “This is not true,” says Dan. Good point. Business “customers” are those that bring money to the company’s revenue stream, and this includes television stations. A TV station’s “customers” are advertisers, not viewers. Like Google, it may be good business to make those viewers/users happy, but it’s misleading to refer to them as customers.

I once had a GM ask me if our business was to serve the public interest through information and entertainment programming or to make money. I naively said the former.

Nowadays, viewers are acutely aware that they aren’t why stations exist. Complaints about increases in commercials are built on that awareness, and it’s one of the reasons viewers have had enough. Alternative sources of information and entertainment are making it easy to turn the TV off and go elsewhere, which they’re doing in droves.

Don’t hate me for this analogy, but inadequately fed sheep will bolt to new pastures every time, but if you feed them, they’ll give you wool over and over again. The TV industry’s obsession with quarterly profits has killed the goose that laid the golden egg and, in so doing, accelerated the power of disruptive innovations that threaten to destroy the industry altogether.

Viewers may not be customers, but it’s foolish to treat them otherwise. This is an even more important lesson in the digital world. Will broadcasters figure it out?

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