I watched some bad television over the weekend. It reminded me of this classic speech by FCC Chairman Newton Minnow in 1961, addressing a group of broadcasters, when television was considered the "New Frontier." It is sometimes known by the last two words of the following excerpt:
But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there without a book, magazine, newspaper, profit and loss sheet or rating book to distract you -- and keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that you will observe a vast wasteland.His prescription, it seems, was greater competition:
I have told you that I believe in the free enterprise system. I believe that most of television's problems stem from lack of competition. This is the importance of UHF to me: with more channels on the air, we will be able to provide every community with enough stations to offer service to all parts of the public. Programs with a mass market appeal required by mass product advertisers certainly will still be available. But other stations will recognize the need to appeal to more limited markets and to special tastes. In this way, we can all have a much wider range of programs.In the intervening 45+ years, we've seen substantial increases in the number of content providers. Using Minnow's criteria, I think the best programming has gotten better, and the worst programming has gotten worse. That's what competition does when there is variety in tastes and a lofty standard for performance.
Television should thrive on this competition - and the country should benefit from alternative sources of service to the public.