Ten Questions for Wayne Friedman

happy days are here again!Wayne Friedman is West Coast Editor of MediaPost, which includes among other things, the television industry. He’s a prolific writer covering an industry that’s been in transition since he first started writing about it two decades ago. In addition to his work at Mediapost, Wayne has also been Los Angeles Bureau Chief at Advertising Age, the advertising/marketing editor at The Hollywood Reporter, and senior editor at Inside Media Magazine. He graciously allowed us to put ten questions in front of him, and we think you’ll enjoy this responses.

Q You’ve been doing this for a long time. What’s your view of the state of television?

Friedman: “This has been a great year for television — virtually unexpected. Viewership is up overall, and advertising revenues have climbed 4%. While not back to pre-recession levels, it’s pretty amazing considering the economic conditions and growing digital media.”

Q We’re hearing a lot of good news about broadcasting lately. Is it “back” or is it too early to tell?

Friedman: “It’s back — but to a certain degree. Local TV stations had a fantastic year. One recent downside: Some Japanese auto makers had a hiccup — and recently pulled back some because of the Earthquake.” At least for the next year or two, local TV only looks to grow — especially with the coming 2012 year Presidential elections, where President Obama is estimated to spend a big and record $1 billion. That’s got to cheer up local TV station managers.”

Q The “big three” or “big four” continue to experience ratings losses, and yet the projections for the upfront season are all aggressive. At what point does the loss of audience become problematic?

Friedman: “This has been a big argument for many years. But the tipping point never seems to come. Broadcast ratings are still higher than the average cable shows. When those numbers truly are the same, sentiment will change and dollars will dramatically shift.”

Q Of all of the companies involved in television today, is there any that you would consider bulletproof? Why?

Friedman: “At the moment, I’d still say Netflix — though that can change. They have been incredibly savvy in figuring out exactly what consumers — and TV and movie studios need.”

Q Both Comcast and Disney are blending cable entities with their broadcast divisions, such as “The Golf Channel on NBC” or “ESPN on ABC.” Is that a recognition of cable’s supremacy or something else?

Friedman: “No, not yet. It’s just extending brand equities of their cable channels — giving them more play in the broadcast world without having to spend big multi-million dollar media budgets.”

Q At some point, unbundled television — programs that are separated from their “channels” — is going to be the reality for most. Is the industry ready for that and how long do you think they have to get ready?

Friedman: “It’s already here — at least in after market runs of programs. But the big issue is how do you market new shows? How do you launch previously untested shows with viewers? “Modern Family” still needed ABC for a big marketing awareness in getting started — as well as all the marketing that ABC’s schedule can give the show.”

Q Your sources run the gamut in terms of positions within the industry. If we were to follow the thoughts of one or two of them, who would you recommend and why?

Friedman: “Follow the money — but try not to get to close. Increasingly, the job of TV trade business reporting is one of making good guesses — and then hopefully following that trail with the aim of getting information confirmed. Everyone has their business angle; shifting out their intent is always the goal.”

Q Last week, you published an article about remarkable profit margin increases for broadcasters and quoted Michael Alcamo about how these companies would be spending those profits. Where do you think is the biggest need for that money?

Friedman: “More digital infrastructure and programming. TV stations need to be increasingly ready for the even bigger TV platform wars to come. Netflix, cable, are breathing down their necks. And now their own broadcast networks are coming after them for whatever is left of their retransmission revenues.”

Q You’ve been on this beat or a number of years. What’s been the biggest challenge?

Friedman: “Getting the right strategy on where the business is at with specific deals. Figuring out the next big moves of the major players.”

Q Finally, let’s dig out the old crystal ball (which I know you have). Where’s the television industry going to be in 2015? Are there trends that you’re watching more closely than others?

Friedman: “Holography. Programs that float in your field of vision — and hopefully let you see the road as well! Seriously, three years from now I think there will be more merging of the traditional media and digital spaces. But there are always seemingly new players — coming out of left field — making an impact. I find those stories the most interesting.”

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