What Can the Music Business Learn from TV?

THE contrast is hard to miss: the great surge in television — especially on cable — as the music industry collapses. Culture writer Ted Gioia has written a short provocative post trying to make sense of the mismatch. He’s also asking how music can replicate some of the success of HBO, Showtime and the others.

Generally, Ted is urging the music and recording establishment to take the high road, doubling down on quality. Specifically, he thinks they should focus on grownups and not children.

This should be obvious to the music execs, but somehow they haven’t figured it out yet. Fourteen-year-olds will not support a subscription-based model for music. HBO realized that the dumbing down of network TV left a large group of consumers under-served, namely sophisticated grown-ups—and these were the same people with the most disposable income to spend on entertainment.

Ted continues: “In contrast, the major record labels are still stuck in kiddie land.”

There’s a lot of insight in this piece, and I urge all of my readers to find it. I’m left with a few questions; I don’t entirely know the answer to them.

First, how congruent are music and television? Rock and pop music — the field’s mainstream — has been built on young consumers for at least six decades now; how do you turn that around.250px-HomelandTVSeries

Second, how secure is this cable-TV golden age? Mad Men, Homeland, True Detective, and a handful of others are tremendous, but will un-bundling or some other technological/economic shift make today’s heyday as temporary as the rock boom of the ’60s?

Third, how typical are shows like the best fare on HBO and the others? Many of the most intelligent shows lose money and have tiny viewerships; Duck Dynasty and reality TV are far more popular than Masters of Sex. Doesn’t music have a similarly tiny gated community of smart, grownup fare, in places like Nonesuch, ECM and Merge Records.

I welcome responses to this and Ted’s sharp piece.


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