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Television Is the New Television: The Unexpected Triumph of Old Media In the Digital Age

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Twenty years after the Netscape IPO, ten years after the birth of YouTube, and five years after the first iPad, the Internet has still not destroyed the giants of old media. CBS, News Corp, Disney, Comcast, Time Warner, and their peers are still alive, kicking, and making big bucks. The New York Times still earns far more from print ads than from digital ads. Super Bowl co Twenty years after the Netscape IPO, ten years after the birth of YouTube, and five years after the first iPad, the Internet has still not destroyed the giants of old media. CBS, News Corp, Disney, Comcast, Time Warner, and their peers are still alive, kicking, and making big bucks. The New York Times still earns far more from print ads than from digital ads. Super Bowl commercials are more valuable than ever. Banner ad space on Yahoo can be bought for a relative pittance. Sure, the darlings of new media-Buzzfeed, HuffPo, Politico, and many more-keep attracting ever more traffic, in some cases truly phenomenal traffic. But as Michael Wolff shows in this fascinating and sure-to-be-controversial book, their buzz and venture financing rounds are based on assumptions that were wrong from the start, and become more wrong with each passing year. The consequences of this folly are far reaching for anyone who cares about good journalism, enjoys bingeing on Netflix, works with advertising, or plans to have a role in the future of the Internet. Wolff set out to write an honest guide to the changing media landscape, based on a clear-eyed evaluation of who really makes money and how. His conclusion: the Web, social media, and various mobile platforms are not the new television. Television is the new television. We all know that Google and Facebook are thriving by selling online ads-but they're aggregators, not content creators. As major brands conclude that banner ads next to text basically don't work, the value of digital traffic to content-driven sites has plummeted, while the value of a television audience continues to rise. Even if millions now watch television on their phones via their Netflix, Hulu, and HBO GO apps, that doesn't change the balance of power. Television by any other name is the game everybody is trying to win-including outlets like The Wall Street Journal that never used to play the game at all. Drawing on his unparalleled sources in corner offices from Rockefeller Center to Beverly Hills, Wolff tells us what's really going on, which emperors have no clothes, and which supposed geniuses are due for a major fall. Whether he riles you or makes you cheer, his book will change how you think about media, technology, and the way we live now.


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Twenty years after the Netscape IPO, ten years after the birth of YouTube, and five years after the first iPad, the Internet has still not destroyed the giants of old media. CBS, News Corp, Disney, Comcast, Time Warner, and their peers are still alive, kicking, and making big bucks. The New York Times still earns far more from print ads than from digital ads. Super Bowl co Twenty years after the Netscape IPO, ten years after the birth of YouTube, and five years after the first iPad, the Internet has still not destroyed the giants of old media. CBS, News Corp, Disney, Comcast, Time Warner, and their peers are still alive, kicking, and making big bucks. The New York Times still earns far more from print ads than from digital ads. Super Bowl commercials are more valuable than ever. Banner ad space on Yahoo can be bought for a relative pittance. Sure, the darlings of new media-Buzzfeed, HuffPo, Politico, and many more-keep attracting ever more traffic, in some cases truly phenomenal traffic. But as Michael Wolff shows in this fascinating and sure-to-be-controversial book, their buzz and venture financing rounds are based on assumptions that were wrong from the start, and become more wrong with each passing year. The consequences of this folly are far reaching for anyone who cares about good journalism, enjoys bingeing on Netflix, works with advertising, or plans to have a role in the future of the Internet. Wolff set out to write an honest guide to the changing media landscape, based on a clear-eyed evaluation of who really makes money and how. His conclusion: the Web, social media, and various mobile platforms are not the new television. Television is the new television. We all know that Google and Facebook are thriving by selling online ads-but they're aggregators, not content creators. As major brands conclude that banner ads next to text basically don't work, the value of digital traffic to content-driven sites has plummeted, while the value of a television audience continues to rise. Even if millions now watch television on their phones via their Netflix, Hulu, and HBO GO apps, that doesn't change the balance of power. Television by any other name is the game everybody is trying to win-including outlets like The Wall Street Journal that never used to play the game at all. Drawing on his unparalleled sources in corner offices from Rockefeller Center to Beverly Hills, Wolff tells us what's really going on, which emperors have no clothes, and which supposed geniuses are due for a major fall. Whether he riles you or makes you cheer, his book will change how you think about media, technology, and the way we live now.

30 review for Television Is the New Television: The Unexpected Triumph of Old Media In the Digital Age

  1. 4 out of 5

    Arnied

    Didn't love it. It was kind of painful to read and a bunch of stuff I already knew. It talks a lot about how digital doesn't really have the revenue of TV. I get that. It also talks about how all of digital is just heading toward TV anyway since you just stream to your television. I get that too. And then it goes into how everything is just videos of one kind or another on most of the successful channels including Facebook and YouTube now. I get that. Bottom line is people want great content in Didn't love it. It was kind of painful to read and a bunch of stuff I already knew. It talks a lot about how digital doesn't really have the revenue of TV. I get that. It also talks about how all of digital is just heading toward TV anyway since you just stream to your television. I get that too. And then it goes into how everything is just videos of one kind or another on most of the successful channels including Facebook and YouTube now. I get that. Bottom line is people want great content in all it's forms. And they will watch it in the weirdest places now -- on TV -- on ipads -- on Facebook -- on YouTube playing on their TV screens -- and in BULK SESSIONS via Netflix playing on their TV's mostly. I get that. It's fragmented but TV is still a big deal. I get that. I watch TV a lot. I love TV. I grew up on TV. I will most likely die in front of the TV. Breaking Bad is not successful because it is watchable via binge viewing on Netflix (like the book claims). Netflix just gave more people the ability to watch an incredible show that they might have missed otherwise. More distribution makes for more chances to catch great content and Breaking Bad is incredible content. So I guess that is what I am saying...watch Breaking Bad. It is really good. This book is just OK.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Hank Stuever

    You have to take Michael Wolff with many grains of salt (which he conveniently provides), but this book is mostly a terrific winnowing down of the current state of things when it comes to the media/entertainment industry and the renaissance remaking all of it. The central argument is that the digital revolution is (surprise, surprise) not the triumphant revolution it promised to be. Content does not want to be free, nor can our economy afford for it to be, nor will the consumer ever be satisfied You have to take Michael Wolff with many grains of salt (which he conveniently provides), but this book is mostly a terrific winnowing down of the current state of things when it comes to the media/entertainment industry and the renaissance remaking all of it. The central argument is that the digital revolution is (surprise, surprise) not the triumphant revolution it promised to be. Content does not want to be free, nor can our economy afford for it to be, nor will the consumer ever be satisfied with the product that comes cheaply as possible. It's strong medicine, especially, for cord-cutters and those who advocate a-la-carte solutions to the big, bad cable company. I enjoyed the book and agreed with most of Wolff's conclusions and observations. You do have to put up with his own sense of rhythm when it comes to writing. The man sure loves a series of commas compounded with dashes and a parenthetical aside. I got to the end of this and repeated my mantra, which I've found useful as an employee of legacy media: Try not to take the renaissance personally; it likely won't be finished in your lifetime.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    Potentially a good book with some valid points, but it is difficult to be sure amid the muddled writing style (are we in past or present tense?) and lack of focus. The short chapters fail to make any one thesis clear, although the payoff, by the end of the book is a reasonable suggestion. Still, I am unsure if I have just read a history, a report on current events, or prophecy. Like the digital medium it excoriates, it is peripatetic and short-sighted.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Richard Thompson

    I work in the television and digital media businesses, and I have witnessed all of the trends that Wolff describes, but until reading this book I never quite put them together in the same way that Wolff has done. That is enough by itself for this book to get four stars from me. Wolff's thesis is that cultural and commercial pressures are pushing digital media in the direction of commodified lowest common denominator mass content, while at the same time related but somewhat different cultural and I work in the television and digital media businesses, and I have witnessed all of the trends that Wolff describes, but until reading this book I never quite put them together in the same way that Wolff has done. That is enough by itself for this book to get four stars from me. Wolff's thesis is that cultural and commercial pressures are pushing digital media in the direction of commodified lowest common denominator mass content, while at the same time related but somewhat different cultural and commercial pressures are pushing television in the direction of high value, high quality content, so that there is a divergence, rather than a convergence between digital media and television, which makes television a good business and may be sending digital media into a profitless death spiral. It is a good insight and there is a lot of truth to what Wolff is saying, but Wolff hangs onto his ideas like a pit bull so that he sometimes misses important subtleties, and he doesn't acknowledge that the rapidly changing environment that he describes is continuing to change so rapidly that everything is likely to be different again in a couple of years. One of the most interesting things to me about this book is how the book itself is a reflection of some of the trends that it analyzes. This book, like "The Long Tail" and some of Malcolm Gladwell's books, is a book length work built around a single good idea that could have been fully described in a twenty or thirty page article. But books pay better than articles, and in the universe that Wolff describes in which serious paying print journalism has been swallowed by bite sized non-paying digital media, he would have been lucky to make a couple of thousand dollars if he had written an article instead of a book. Buying this book is like buying an album for one good song or a package of twenty crappy cable channels to get one good one. The dross gets shoved into the hopper with the good stuff to justify higher pricing for the good stuff and to allow the purveyors of the packages to experiment with things included in the dross in the hope that some of them will turn to gold. It seems terribly inefficient. In concept it would be better to just get the good stuff, throw out the dross and find a better way to subsidize the experiments. But the way that it is done now may be more consistent with behavioral economics because people feel more comfortable with paying higher prices for higher quantity than for higher quality; I'd love to see Daniel Kahneman analyze this phenomenon. And it has the benefit of being what Nassim Taleb would call "anti-fragile" because the dross provides a stable environment for incubating the high value items of the future, plus a cushion for the situations where the alleged high value item turns out to be a turkey or loses value over time. Plus the people who make their livings creating the dross are the middle class that keeps our country from moving further into a polarized world of rich and poor. There is a lot to think about here, and I am definitely moving in the direction of thinking that even if it is theoretically inefficient, bundling the dross together with the gold may not be such a bad thing, and maybe we should be looking for ways to preserve and reinvent the concept instead of looking for ways to circumvent it.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    DNF at p. 55 All over the place

  6. 5 out of 5

    Juliana Abaúnza

    Le doy 3.5. Interesante. Entretenido. Se lee muy rápido. El punto general del libro es que la gente lleva diciendo desde hace décadas, cada vez que aparece una nueva tecnología, que la televisión va a desaparecer, y resulta que lo que siempre termina pasando es que esas tecnología refuerzan el negocio de la televisión. Me gustó en especial una parte en la que dice que la televisión, que se sostenía mayoritariamente a punta de publicidad y comerciales, ahora es casi por completo ad-free… y los gr Le doy 3.5. Interesante. Entretenido. Se lee muy rápido. El punto general del libro es que la gente lleva diciendo desde hace décadas, cada vez que aparece una nueva tecnología, que la televisión va a desaparecer, y resulta que lo que siempre termina pasando es que esas tecnología refuerzan el negocio de la televisión. Me gustó en especial una parte en la que dice que la televisión, que se sostenía mayoritariamente a punta de publicidad y comerciales, ahora es casi por completo ad-free… y los grandes del internet, un espacio que prometía un idilio utópico donde el acceso a la información debería ser gratuito, se mantienen a punta de pauta y publicidad. Como dijo Alanis Morissette, isn’t it ironic?

  7. 5 out of 5

    Dana

    This examination of the interplay between TV and modern digital distribution technologies is a valuable exploration of the history behind current media distribution models but is woefully lacking in understanding of audience engagement and other cultural factors that play an enormous part in modern media consumption habits. Wolff attempts to distill media culture down to pure technology, economics, and market forces like they are mystical and unassociated with human behavior. While the market si This examination of the interplay between TV and modern digital distribution technologies is a valuable exploration of the history behind current media distribution models but is woefully lacking in understanding of audience engagement and other cultural factors that play an enormous part in modern media consumption habits. Wolff attempts to distill media culture down to pure technology, economics, and market forces like they are mystical and unassociated with human behavior. While the market side of mass media production and distribution is a hugely important part of the equation that's often ignored in treatments about the TV Renaissance, ignoring the sociological shifts that go along with changes to modern mass media leads him to some ridiculous conclusions about how it all works. Ultimately, this book is a mediocre treatment of new distribution models that could do with a more thorough examination of both the history and transformation of television content as the form and distribution have changed and with a closer look at the various models of audience engagement that have also been transformed by digital distribution and which in turn partially drive the content of the content perhaps just as much as the purely economic side of the equation.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Dave Courtney

    The chapters are short, and some of the content deserves to be a bit clearer in terms of direction or focus, but the big ideas are certainly worthy of thought. In many ways this is a sentimental story about the love of t.v.. It is more than mere sentiment though, as it insists that t.v., despite the war of the digital.age, is still alive and well. I suspect the book echos much of what those of us who grew up in the age of television already have been thinking (that the war between digital and te The chapters are short, and some of the content deserves to be a bit clearer in terms of direction or focus, but the big ideas are certainly worthy of thought. In many ways this is a sentimental story about the love of t.v.. It is more than mere sentiment though, as it insists that t.v., despite the war of the digital.age, is still alive and well. I suspect the book echos much of what those of us who grew up in the age of television already have been thinking (that the war between digital and television is not as clear cut as the trend of cable cutting makes it appear). The author simply helps to make sense of the why questions, while addressing some fears,.defining his general thesis (that once we navigate through the mass amounts of drivel that the digital landscape has produced, what we find is the persistance of old fashioned television watching simply in a modern way), and predicting some trends and realities. First, we recognize that there is a war between the two mediums (which he helps us to understand from the perspective of the system itself, which I found very enlightening). The most unfortunate part of the war is the big wigs who have done there best to keep the two sides (modern digital movement and old fashioned t.v. watching) from coming together in a productive way. This has led to some complicated realities and trends, which becomes most relevant when one digs down in to questions of revenue and profit. Much of the discussion that surrounds this may feel and sound menial to the average person, but where it filters down from profit to consumer is in terms of content and quality of art, and it is this question that forms the authors insistence that underneath trends of superficiality (which the digital media has fed) is the same solid foundation that anchored and fueled the passion for good t.v. through the years. T.V. is far from a lost art, even if notions of a vast and fast changing digital landscape continue to send the message that it is. There are many questions that remain, many of which revolve around sustainability and building a competitive digital landscape. One of the more compelling thoughts that he offers is the notion of bundling (something that has been largely sold as a negative... why pay for something that we don't want) as both necessary and positive in moving forward. Bundling allows for competition, gives room for shows to develop, and allows the hits and the worthwhile content to both survive and emerge. One of the truths (the author insists) of the digital landscape is that it still depends on the nature of old fashion television watching to give it the recognizable hits and content that sustain it. While discussions of revenue and profit have spun the digital world all over the place, the foundation is still in the art of old fashioned t.v. watching. And that is hopefully good news for those of us who might feel like the medium we once loved is slipping away in to undefined digital world.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Dante

    A sometimes-interesting take on media I picked up this book when the library didn’t have any available copies of Wolff‘s latest, “Fire and Fury.” As someone who aspires to write for (and ultimately create my own) television programming, I found this book to be somewhat interesting. Much of it is re-purposed work that Wolff had previously written for magazines, newspapers, or websites, so those familiar with Wolff’s material might not find much new here. Now that the book is over three years old ( A sometimes-interesting take on media I picked up this book when the library didn’t have any available copies of Wolff‘s latest, “Fire and Fury.” As someone who aspires to write for (and ultimately create my own) television programming, I found this book to be somewhat interesting. Much of it is re-purposed work that Wolff had previously written for magazines, newspapers, or websites, so those familiar with Wolff’s material might not find much new here. Now that the book is over three years old (as of the time I write this review), much of the information is outdated, given the fast-moving media landscape. I find Wolff’s writing style frequently aggravating: he loves run-on sentences, and regularly constructs sentences built of clauses within clauses within clauses. Like Russian nesting dolls, his writing often requires tedious unpacking with little if any reward when you get to the bottom of it. He’d be well-served to switch to an editor who’ll guide him away from such tendencies. I hope I’ll like “Fire and Fury” more.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Troy Blackford

    I had no clue what this was when I got it, thinking it would be about the 'golden age' of television we are currently experiencing. Well, that wasn't what this was about, but it was still a fascinating read. Wolff's thesis is that the 'old media' are still making money, and the monetized aspects of the digital media are all coming to resemble old media outlets, while the highly-touted 'takeover' by digital keeps getting pushed back further and further, and is largely illusory. He creates a compe I had no clue what this was when I got it, thinking it would be about the 'golden age' of television we are currently experiencing. Well, that wasn't what this was about, but it was still a fascinating read. Wolff's thesis is that the 'old media' are still making money, and the monetized aspects of the digital media are all coming to resemble old media outlets, while the highly-touted 'takeover' by digital keeps getting pushed back further and further, and is largely illusory. He creates a compelling argument. This was an interesting look at the way things stand right now in terms of content and audience, and I'm glad I read it.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Skyler

    Be forewarned, this book ins't really about television. It's more about online advertising. The first half of the book didn't mention much at all about television, which is precisely why I wanted to read it. I was hoping for more of a history of television, the rise and fall, the rising from the ashes in the digital world, the resurgence of quality tv programming; but that ins't what I got. I didn't really take too much away from this book. It was a page-turner and kept me reading (mostly hoping Be forewarned, this book ins't really about television. It's more about online advertising. The first half of the book didn't mention much at all about television, which is precisely why I wanted to read it. I was hoping for more of a history of television, the rise and fall, the rising from the ashes in the digital world, the resurgence of quality tv programming; but that ins't what I got. I didn't really take too much away from this book. It was a page-turner and kept me reading (mostly hoping it'd actually talk about television and not advertising). Overall, I wouldn't really recommend it to anyone unless they were interested in online advertising.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Carmel

    While interesting, this book reads more like a textbook and less like trade non-fiction. As a person not affiliated with the industry (other than enjoying some recreational TV and movies), the list of facts and names and events was a bit too much. Not recommended as a recreational read.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Budaallmusic

    Don't need the write a book to defend one idea. The thesis in itself is right according to our agency experience. Don't need the write a book to defend one idea. The thesis in itself is right according to our agency experience.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Petty Lisbon

    2.5 I assumed this would be more about the network and cable divide versus streaming networks but it was more about advertising and the business side of entertainment. I consider myself someone who likes learning about that stuff (why are syndicated reruns sped up? why do some shows disappear from reruns? And so on) but it wasn't even about *that* exclusively. I liked learning about some topics, like how new media properties start out well because they can reach an imagined, specific, illusive de 2.5 I assumed this would be more about the network and cable divide versus streaming networks but it was more about advertising and the business side of entertainment. I consider myself someone who likes learning about that stuff (why are syndicated reruns sped up? why do some shows disappear from reruns? And so on) but it wasn't even about *that* exclusively. I liked learning about some topics, like how new media properties start out well because they can reach an imagined, specific, illusive demographic but then grow and grow and need to get bought out to survive and no longer reach that demographic and lose revenue (like Vice) but I've read other people describe that better in books such as Nickelodeon Nation: The History, Politics, and Economics of America's Only TV Channel for Kids, which was "just" a book about a children's channel compared to something written by a big media executive (Note: I just looked up Michael Wolff and I didn't realize this was the guy who wrote Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House? I am shocked). I wouldn't even say that everything he said is specifically accurate or interesting because this was one book that did come out too early. He said that TV will always be around because people want to pay to watch worlds and stories, not (paraphrasing) vloggers, but it's 2021 and lots of networks are getting rid of sitcoms, dramas are only surviving if you're created by a big name (Wolf, Rhimes, Murphy, Berlanti, and whoever does CBS stuff), and gimmick game shows aren't just in the summer or dead end slots anymore. Even if it's not particularly successful, "traditional" media companies like Viacom and NBCUniversal have created their own streaming platforms and have released things that ought to just be on cable, like Real World spinoffs, Rugrats, and any genre or reality show on Peacock, out of greed rather than "storytelling" purposes (a lot of these shows are still censored and are around 40 minutes). I liked learning about specific media business lingo which makes me dream of being a business major, like regional sports network and hearing about the a la carte vs bundled debate. Overall, this book isn't completely informational and I wouldn't say it was editorially successful.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Arturo Romo

    The narrative structure is at some points blurry but the insider information and analysis is really surprising. My favourite parts were the ones about the cable operator modus operandi; the three big digital moguls intervention and the sports deals.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Nick Royak

    It's a tough writing style, but for anyone working in the entertainment business this is a great crash course in the modern landscape of TV. Highly recommend to all film and TV students because this is stuff that will be glossed over in class. It's a tough writing style, but for anyone working in the entertainment business this is a great crash course in the modern landscape of TV. Highly recommend to all film and TV students because this is stuff that will be glossed over in class.

  17. 4 out of 5

    David

    Short but informative

  18. 5 out of 5

    Shivali

    Bad reviews on writing style and tone aside , I think this book is important as it makes you question some of the dynamics of the media industry. As it touches upon the power dynamics of various parts of the media and entertainment value chain , the real value of the book lies in some of the questions it leaves one with : 1. The unsustainability of the ad based revenue model when "traffic" becomes a metric instead of a clearly defined audience that sticks. 2. Why sports content investment has co Bad reviews on writing style and tone aside , I think this book is important as it makes you question some of the dynamics of the media industry. As it touches upon the power dynamics of various parts of the media and entertainment value chain , the real value of the book lies in some of the questions it leaves one with : 1. The unsustainability of the ad based revenue model when "traffic" becomes a metric instead of a clearly defined audience that sticks. 2. Why sports content investment has continued to persistently earn high revenue while other media hasn't 3. View on supply- demand of ad inventory , it's impact on pricing - what differentiates the few winners and many losers It's not a book to 'gain industry knowledge' but merely highlight some aspects through historic turn of events , and act as a base to probe further research , forming own view , and a surely a re-read

  19. 5 out of 5

    Brandon

    I was very excited to read this book! It seemed like a perfect mix of my interests in media (specifically television) through the years. Somewhere buried inside these pages is an interesting and well-researched book, but the writing, sentence structure, punctuation and grammar made this book practically unreadable. Such a disappointment.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Nicolas Schaettel

    I ended up being quite disappointed by this book. Because I had high expectations based on previous books from the author ? Because I work in the industry ? Both ? In the end I found it very superficial (maybe wanting to cover too much) and even confusing at times. The only positive ? Some crusty anecdotes about people in the industry but definitely too little...

  21. 5 out of 5

    Alison

    Great recent history book. About TV, digital, viewers, traffic, revenue. A number of times I found myself saying 'oh wow, that's right, yikes' out loud on the subway. Great recent history book. About TV, digital, viewers, traffic, revenue. A number of times I found myself saying 'oh wow, that's right, yikes' out loud on the subway.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Bob Monek

    Not a bad read. Good summary of recent history and where things stand in the business. Falls short on delivering anything enlightening.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jake

    Written with a myopic bias towards the victim.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mimi Ngo

  25. 4 out of 5

    Brittany Coriaty

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sunil Seepuri

  27. 5 out of 5

    Akshai Subramanian

  28. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

  29. 4 out of 5

    Serge

  30. 4 out of 5

    d2000g

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