Throwback Thursday: The Cable Game in 2009

MV5BMjE3Njg5NzY2OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDMxNjEwMg@@._V1__SX1320_SY1209_Clicking around today [Jan 1], The Cable Gamer was able to watch enough news, including the commercials and promos, to get a better sense of who the cable newsers want to be in 2009. What’s the “meta message” of their news? What do they want us thinking about , and wondering about, as we decide whether or not to tune in? What frame of mind should we be in? The short version is, MSNBC, “zzzz”; Fox, “be very afraid”; and CNN, “do what we tell you.”

OK, actually, I didn’t watch much of MSNBC today, because the “news” all day today was reruns of “Dateline,” or some other drek left over from NBC. So the message of MSNBC is, forget the breaking news from the Middle East, or politics, or the economy, and just focus on cheesy prison documentaries from five years ago.

Which is to say, MSNBC does not seem to be living up to its own mission, which is to offer viewers the opportunity to “experience the power of change.” That was MSNBC’s tagline even before the 2008 election. In other words, MSNBC was mirroring the “change” mantra of the Obama campaign, even before the votes were all counted. BloggerMark Finkelstein was, I think, the first to observe that MSNBC, in its blue enthusiasm, was making itself a de facto part of Barack Obama for President campaign, federal election law notwithstanding. The Cable Gamer has always wondered whether news fans will really want to watch a network that styles itself as part of the Obama operation, but if today’s TV is any indicator, MSNBC has already concluded that there’s more money to be made running stale repeats. Sorry Barack!

Next, Fox, which offered live news all morning, before shifting over to Bill O’Reilly repeats, which were, at least year-end-ish and topical—Dick Morris’s Top Ten greatest political mistakes of 2008, Dennis Miller’s Top Ten Pinheads, etc. Meanwhile, Fox’s new post-election promo is its own little drama, an almost “24”-ish take on all that is going wrong, and could go wrong, in the world, mostly explosions and pumping fists from around the world. The key words flashing by are, “As the world changes … stay with Fox… no one does it better.”

(The video above is two-fer: it not only shows the Fox promo, it also shows another MSNBC promo, albeit one not approved by MSNBC.) The Fox ad shows a world of storm and stress, and while some clearly see the world in such terms, other folk will likely say, “Hey, let’s give Obama a try—he has to be better than George W. Bush!” And those latter folks, the optimists, will, of course, have a good point. Which is not to say Fox won’t have fun with its Armageddon-ish message. It is after all, better to be cautious than too carefree.

And so, last and not least, we come to CNN, which is running a new promo of its own, in which an intoner—not James Earl Jones, but someone equally serious—intones, over Inauguration-ish B Roll, “On January 20th, the world will watch the networks of CNN.” Note the word “networks.” Of course, CNNFN folded, and CNN Headline News is just a shadow of what it once was, and also, I guess CNN Airport News counts as a separate network.

But the main argument for CNN, and it’s a legit argument, is that it’s truly an international network, with an international sensibility. It really is true that if you go overseas, the most likely news outlet that you are going to see on TV is CNN. So CNN is probably smart to make the most of its greatest strength: It is #1 around the world, via CNN International. And so to the extent that people like to watch the news as part of a herd—watching what’s safe, what’s known, what’s peer-approved—then CNN has an effective promo there.

Indeed, the sort of ambient inevitability that the promo puts forth—”the world will watch”—is sort of in keeping with the times, where Obama’s vote and money machine seem Borg-like in their ineluctability. Which is to say, CNN is in tune with creepy corporatist times, where people behind closed doors make all the big decisions, and then tell not only us, but also Congress.

As an aside, have you seen the trailers for the new movie “The International” starring Clive Owen and Naomi Watts? They include this tagline: “They control your money. They control your government. They control your life. And everybody pays.”

Sounds about right!

Now I realize that CNN is not that powerful—indeed, CNN is much less powerful than it was in the 90s, or even the 80s—but it still has a pervasiveness. CNN International, indeed.

Reposted from The Cable Game, 1 January 2009

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