For years, any of the network news programs would love to have been referred to as the "Cadillac" network, implying high-class quality in a similar way that the "Tiffany" Network always did.
However, it appears that NBC, ABC, and CBS news have something else in common with Buick, Cadillac and Lincoln: Their customers base is aging. Rapidly.
The median age of the average Buick owner is 67, for Cadillac is 65 and Lincoln is 63. Excepting Escalades and Navigators, when was the last time you saw anyone in one of these cards who did not have gray hair (and perhaps a handicapped tag)? This aging has the auto makers panicked. Unless it is reversed, in 20 years these brands will be history.
It turns out that the network news programs have exactly the same problem, though none of them profess to be worried, despite the fact that the networks are losing share to competitors at a much faster clip than are US auto makers. Journalism.org reports that the median age of an ABC News viewer is about 59, of an NBC News viewer is 60 and of a CBS News viewer is over 61. Everyone who is younger has switched to cable, switched to the Internet, or switched off altogether.
In some sense, the network news problem is worse than the auto makers'. If the auto makers can find compelling new designs to appeal to younger folks, younger buyers will come back - the brands are tarnished, but the basic business model is OK. In the case of the networks, not only are their brands tarnished, but it is not clear that the business model of 30 minute evening news broadcasts can ever be revived in the face of a huge proliferation in news sources.
But, it is still entertaining to see who will replace the current anchors, the single best tool the networks have to reposition their broadcasts. I wrote about Dan Rather's potential replacements here.
What is it about the previous generations and the number 3? Three big networks, three major automakers, Avis-Hertz-National, McDonalds-Burger King-Wendy's, etc. Has there been a technology change to break up these oligarchies and provide more choices, or was there an inability by a couple of generations overwhelmed with change to digest more than 3 choices? Update to the Update: Virginia Postrel actually has a related post here about choice.