It is enormously tempting to look at the three networks and see a collective dinosaur. Two of them, ABC and CBS, announced losses for 1987. Even NBC, the ratings and financial leader, found it necessary to lay off about 300 people. Viewership is down at CBS and ABC, costs are rising and advertising is declining. Home video, cable and independent stations are playing Jack to the networks' giant.
More disturbing for the networks was the advertiser revolt. Until recently networks were able to pass along increases in programming costs to the advertisers. No longer. Advertising agencies witnessing diminishing ratings at CBS and ABC announced that they would stop paying advertising increases when those networks were delivering fewer viewers.
- There may also be more news programs, which are only half as expensive to produce as entertainment programs. Having grown tired, not to mention poor, competing against "Cosby" with programs that cost $900,000 to $1 million, ABC introduced "Our World," which is also getting low ratings, but is reportedly making a profit for ABC because of its low costs. CBS' new head of the news division, Howard Stringer, has announced a similar program with Charles Kuralt as well as an increase in documentaries. On the other hand, NBC canceled "1986" before it could become "1987." Although NBC is also adding documentaries they will add up to significantly fewer prime-time news hours on the network. ABC executives also caution against interpreting "Our World" as the start of a trend. And budget cutbacks at all three networks may mitigate against more news shows.