Network newscasts are dying. And really profitable.

Commentary about business and finance.
Aug. 9 2005 5:18 PM

The Peter Principle

Network newscasts may be dying, but they're doing it profitably.

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The fragmentation also works in favor of another declining medium consumed primarily by old people: newspapers. If you're a Washington-area sporting-goods chain and you want several hundred thousand people to learn about a sale, the Washington Post (published by Slate's parent company) is the only vehicle that can guarantee delivery. Yes, newspaper-ad sales are drifting. But they're still significant. As the Washington Post Co.'s most recent earnings release shows, ad revenues at the Post fell 2 percent in the second quarter, while revenues at the online units, of which Slate is now a part, grew 21 percent. But look at the overall numbers. Print-ad revenues were $146.4 million, while online revenues were $18.7 million. It will take many more years of 2 percent declines for newspaper advertising and 20 percent growth in online advertising before the newspaper business model becomes seriously endangered. And as Universal McCann ad forecaster Robert Coen's 2005 report shows (see the chart on Page 7), national advertisers—big companies with big campaigns—primarily spend their money on old media.

Peter Jennings may have been the last of the celebrity globe-trotting network anchors. But there will be other anchors. Whoever fills his chair may never have the name recognition, moral authority, or salary that Jennings had. But for ABC, and the shareholders of parent company Disney, he—or she—will still be a bankable talent.

Daniel Gross is a longtime Slate contributor. His most recent book is Better, Stronger, Faster. Follow him on Twitter.