Via Shoptalk Mass-Media Meltdown John Podhoretz NEW YORK POST The mass-media melt down is happening everywhere you look - from the multiplex to the newsstand, from late-night television to drive-time radio. Hollywood is in a panic, because for nine weeks straight, box office grosses have been lower than last year's. As Gabriel Snyder wrote in Tuesday's edition of Variety, "In recent years the first weekend of May has seen a big expansion in the marketplace. But if [the current] estimate of $83 million holds when final figures are tallied, it would be the worst weekend of an already listless year. It is also 26 percent behind last year's summer kickoff frame, when 'Van Helsing' opened to $51.7 million - perceived as a disappointment at the time." The editors and publishers of most major American newspapers are terrified, because declines in newspaper circulation are accelerating at an alarming clip. By one reckoning, the Los Angeles Times lost an astounding 13 percent of its readers in a year's time. Television networks are reeling from a dramatic contraction of its audience of young male viewers aged 18-34 - the cohort most desired by advertisers. According to a controversial Nielsen study, their prime-time viewership has declined by nearly 8 percent. The number has been shrinking for more than a decade. Talk-radio audiences in major cities like New York and Washington have fallen since the 2004 election. Meanwhile, radio executives who program music stations - and who have been packing every hour with increasing numbers of commercials - are being forced by their impatient audiences to limit the number of ads and play more music. The American recording industry is in tatters, increasingly unable to introduce new stars and to sell new music. There are compelling individual explanations for these phenomena. For instance, this year's movies have been extraordinarily uninteresting. And the collapse in newspaper circulation may simply be the result of more honest reporting on the part of publishers chastened by the public exposure last year of fraudulent numbers at papers like Newsday and the Dallas Morning News. But it can't be a coincidence that the five major pillars of the American media - movies, television, radio, recorded music and newspapers - are all suffering at the same time. And it isn't. Something major has changed over the past year, as the availability of alternative sources of information and entertainment has finally reached critical mass. Newly empowered consumers are letting the producers, creators and managers of the nation's creative and news content know that they are dissatisfied with the product they're being peddled. Take the movie going audience. For 25 years, people have been watching movies at home on video and DVD. But only in the past year or so have people been able to afford big flat screens in their homes that offer an aural and visual experience superior in many ways to a movie theater's. The $2,000 price tag for that TV doesn't seem so steep when you consider that an average married couple has to pay upwards of $70 ($22 for two tickets, another $15 for soda and popcorn for two, parking fees, babysitter) to attend a single film. And it doesn't seem like that much of a treat when the movie is being projected onto a filthy piece of billowing white canvas that is never cleaned. And so it goes. Satellite radio makes it possible for people willing to spend $12 a month to listen to superb sound quality without commercials. TiVo and digital video recorders have finally made it easy for people to watch the TV programs they want to watch whenever they want to watch them. And it goes without saying that the Internet has transformed the way people interested in news can get their information. It also goes without saying that the owners and distributors of old media aren't just going to go quietly into that good night. These are still unimaginably valuable platforms. But the key will be understanding that the self-satisfied conduct of media professionals - peddling unwatchable nonsense in Hollywood and on TV, and foisting politically correct pseudo-information on increasingly sophisticated consumers of news - isn't going to hack it any longer. ---------------------------------------------------------------------- You can UNSUBSCRIBE from the OpenDTV list in two ways: - Using the UNSUBSCRIBE command in your user configuration settings at FreeLists.org - By sending a message to: opendtv-request@xxxxxxxxxxxxx with the word unsubscribe in the subject line.