Ed Driscoll

The New Media Crisis (Of 1949)

Terry Teachout writes that the new-media revolution of today isn’t the first time that “technological change has laid waste to the best-laid plans of the old media. The same thing was happening 60 years ago”:

Does the fate of network radio have anything to teach today’s old-media executives? Three lessons come to mind:

Network TV lost vast amounts of money in its early years. It was only because the existing ­radio networks were willing to subsidize TV that it survived—leaving CBS and NBC at the top of the heap in the ’50s and ’60s, just as they had been in the ’30s and ’40s. The old media of today have a similar chance to prosper tomorrow if they can survive the heavy financial losses that they’re incurring while they develop workable new-media business models.

Established radio performers such as Benny and Hope, who embraced TV on its own visually oriented terms, flourished well into the ’60s. Everyone else—­including Fred Allen—vanished into the dumpster of entertainment history. The same fate awaits contemporary old-media figures unwilling to grapple with the challenge of the new media, no matter how popular they may be today.

Americans of all ages ­embraced TV unhesitatingly. They felt no loyalty to network radio, the medium that had entertained and informed them for a quarter-century. When something came along that they deemed superior, they switched off their radios without a second thought. That’s the biggest lesson taught by the new-media crisis of 1949. Nostalgia, like guilt, is a rope that wears thin.

One big difference between the benign old media in 1949 and today’s media? Half of the legacy media’s prospective audience has already decamped in recent years because they’re tired of being continually trashed.