Why Mass Media Content is Dumbing Down

In the second part of my essay, Transforming American Newspapers, I mentioned several corollary effects that occur when the sheer number of Media vehicles radically increases. However, I inadvertently omitted two other corollary effects.

The primary business model of most Mass Media vehicles (newspapers, magazines, broadcast programs, etc.) is to attract sufficient numbers of consumers so that the vehicle will attract advertisers who will pay to place their advertisements either adjacent or interstitial to the content that attracts the consumers. The more consumers the vehicle attracts, the higher the rates the advertiser are willing to pay and the more money the vehicle earns.

Yet when the sheer number of Media vehicles radically increases, the median number of consumers attracted to any vehicle decreases because the total number of consumers are spread across many more vehicles (the so-called ‘fragmentation’ of audiences). That tends to reduce the median revenues of those vehicles. Mass Media vehicles try to compensate for this by (1) ‘dumbing’ the quality of their content, attempting to attract a larger audience by appealing to a lower common denominator and restore larger numbers of consumers.

That corollary effect is why so many television networks have ‘dumbed down’ (a wonderful technical term) their programs. The plethora of ‘reality’ programs are examples. Other examples are how formerly ‘quality ‘ programs or ‘quality’ networks are now purveying content of questionable quality. For instance, the Biography television program on the Arts & Entertainment Network used to broadcast biographies of Einstein, Picasso, and Michelangelo, but now broadcasts biographies of Madonna, Jim Carey, and Britney Spears. Or, for instances, how the Learning Channel used to broadcast programs about mathematics, science, and the humanities but now broadcasts programs about purchasing real estate, upgrading wardrobes, and home furnishings.

The another corollary effect that I inadvertently omitted is similar. When the sheer number of Media vehicles radically increases and the median number of consumers attracted to any vehicle decreases, (2) Mass Media vehicles become more timid, fearing further loss of consumers. No surprise.

Both of these effects are caused by the radical increase in the supply of media vehicles consumers now have. Both doom us to increasingly crass content on television and, more often than not, more timid content in all Mass Media nowadays.

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