Tucker Carlson Signals Old-Style Broadcast TV Business Model Faces No Tomorrow

Bookmark and Share

Photo by Denny Müller on UnsplashHere’s what nobody’s talking about in the entire Tucker Carlson SNAFU. It’s not about Tucker Carlson. It’s not about Fox. It’s about the changing of the guard.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the dominance of network TV has dwindled over the last two generations. With the advent of easy-to-access cable TV over the last forty years, viewers have weened themselves from the network nipple.

This change in behavior hasn’t necessarily occurred deliberately. The very act of presenting so many options paralyzes viewers into non-decision. This is a common reaction to what behavioral psychologists call “choice overload.” But don’t give them credit. Alvin Toffler first introduced the concept in his 1970 book Future Shock. He called it “overchoice.”

Of course, if you want to be a stickler, choice overload is merely a derivative of “analysis paralysis.” The idea dates back no later than Aesop’s fables, specifically the The Fox and the Cat. Read it if you’re interested. But there’s an easier way to understand choice overload using a much more modern example.

Think about your own experiences when buying ice cream. When it comes to soft serve ice cream, you generally only have two choices – chocolate and vanilla (OK, maybe a third choice if you include “twist” as an option). It takes you two seconds to decide. Bam! Bam! And you’re walking away with a delicious cone of delight.

Now think about what happens when you belly up to the counter to order hard ice cream. There are literally dozens of choices. Even if you came to the head of a line with a clear idea of what you wanted, the introduction of so many new options in the cases below you stuns you (at least for a moment). You’re like a deer in the headlights. And your unnatural delay has you sense the growing impatience of those waiting hungrily behind you.

Much to the concern of the four over-the-air networks, such was the dilemma of viewers in a world of hundreds of channel choices, each sponsored by a new cable-only network.

Now, flip things around. If the cable cornucopia worried the established broadcasters, what about the underlying infrastructure? How did the show producers feel?

To answer that question, you need look no further than what’s happening with Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Hulu, just to name a few. These outlets regularly feature original content. If you produce TV shows or movies, you’re no longer beholden to the old-style TV network. You have more opportunities. Heck, you don’t even need to rely on cable anymore.

You see where this is heading.

And it’s not without precedent.

About twenty years ago, the book publishing business model changed forever. Traditional publishers once acted as the gatekeepers who decided which authors to publish and which books to promote. With the advent of print on demand, authors could now choose to independently publish their own books.

Here’s what that means.

Let’s take a look at what an author sees in both the old and the new book publishing business models. Under the traditional way of doing things, an author might get two dollars in royalties for a typical book with a retail price of $24.95. By independently publishing their books, authors can get anywhere from $15 to $20 per book. You might sell more books by volume through a traditional publishing house, but you’ll earn far more selling fewer books independently.

Now, if you’re an author, which publishing model would you choose? You can make ten times more doing everything yourself. What value does a traditional publisher add? Increasingly, the answer is “less and less.” They don’t do much in terms of marketing your book, so you’re stuck doing the hardest part by yourself in either case.

Unless you’re an author, you aren’t aware of this competition between book publishing business models and the resultant shift from traditional publishing to independent publishing. I’m on the front lines, however. As a Certified Book Publishing Professional as well as a Certified Book Marketing Professional, I’ve lived through this evolution in book publishing.

My first book, published a quarter of a century ago, used a traditional publisher. It went nowhere and I never earned a penny on it. Since then, I’ve gone the independent route and had tremendous success, including hitting #1 status for one of my books (the hamburger one). I doubt I would have achieved this using traditional publishers.

Could the traditional television show distribution model be going through the same metamorphosis? Early indications suggest it is.

Today, the gatekeeper business model of the likes of ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC (and, yes, even the newer cable networks) has become more “yesterday” than “tomorrow.” And Tucker Carlson may represent the straw that broke the camel’s back.

In a move that took everyone by surprise and for reasons not disclosed as of this writing, the powers that be in charge of Fox decided Carlson should no longer host a show on their network. At the time, “Tucker Carlson Tonight” was the highest rated cable television show with more than 3 million nightly viewers.

Immediately, speculation ensued that Carlson would go independent and adopt the Joe Rogan career path. Rogan started off on television before setting up his own separate path. Today, Rogan hosts the most popular podcast and garners 11 million viewers per daily episode.

Could Tucker Carlson duplicate this feat?

After Fox forced him out, Tucker Carlson issued a two-minute video statement on Twitter. In 24 hours, more than 22 million people watched that video, an audience twice the size of Joe Rogan’s. More impressively, nearly 73 million people saw the tweet of Carlson’s video. Compare this to the 53 million that watched all cable TV channels combined.

What does this mean for the traditional TV broadcasting business model (cable or over-the-air)? Even if Carlson succeeds in making the switch to independent, like traditional book publishers today, old-style TV broadcasters will continue to exist. But, again like major book publishers, they will cater to a smaller and smaller group of content producers and to more narrowly focused audiences.

Years ago, young starlets dreamed of graduating from local community theater to Hollywood. Today, burgeoning content creators have visions of striking it big by staying home and becoming the next Mr. Beast.

And if you don’t know who Mr. Beast is, you’re probably still watching TV.


  1. […] it offers a more significant business lesson. What is it? Read this week’s Carosa Commentary “Tucker Carlson Signals Old-Style Broadcast TV Business Model Faces No Tomorrow” and discover what’s likely happening behind the […]

Speak Your Mind


Skip to content