For more than 60 years, TV stations have broadcast news, sports and entertainment for free and made their money by showing commercials. That might not work much longer.This has some implications for television that are both frightening and filled with opportunity. First, this means that the public broadcasting, either from the CPB or from local public access channels, would be more important than ever. As of 2007, forty-two percent of American households do not subscribe to a cable service (and that number is prone to rise in poor economic conditions) and the proposed change to local channels would effectively force viewers to either get service or abandon television altogether.
The business model is unraveling at ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox and the local stations that carry the networks' programming. Cable TV and the Web have fractured the audience for free TV and siphoned its ad dollars. The recession has squeezed advertising further, forcing broadcasters to accelerate their push for new revenue to pay for programming.
This has further implications because the news is still largely broadcast and consumed via television, especially in an emergency event. Should something happen, we depend on television and local news to inform the public, possibly dispersing critical information. Without that a large segment of the population is at risk, especially vulnerable populations like the poor and the elderly.
There may also be an opportunity here. If local network affiliates end up committing themselves to cable, there may be a void in the local marketplace for local independent television stations to sprout, the kinds of stations that have become all but extinct. Someone innovative and with a few dollars in their pocket could feasibly take over a local station, broadcast over the air (and since their product is free they could call their organization a nonprofit) and use it as a platform for local issues.