Friday, December 28, 2018

TWIT: Does anyone care anymore?



How the mighty hath fallen...so to speak.

I don't watch TWIT much these days and when I do I'm frequently disappointed.  Which in itself is a surprise since I didn't think things could get any worse.  Looking at the holiday offerings this year for example was much like last year.  Just a bunch of "Best of's" which were compilations of anything but.  Where were the Holiday themed episodes?  The special round tables with the likes of John Hodgman and Jonanthan Coulton?  Where's the New Year's Special!

Oh yeah, Leo don't do that anymore...

Truth be told, the promise of the TWIT was always far more grand than the product delivered.  Big dreams, the resurgence of a 90's tech icon.  A network built on a small but vocal demographic of those for whom their mantra, their religion, their dearest wish was all things tech.

It wasn't a hard sell for devotees of the defunct TechTV ( formerly ZDTV) basic cable channel.  Leo Laporte was an affable "every-man" who just happened to have a silky smooth presentation and at least an idea of what he was talking about.  

You never saw him confuse a Hard Drive with a Video card.  He was someone you felt you could trust.  A family man, someone like you and me.  A trusted friend you drag along with you to CompUSA.

Yes, I'm dating myself but only in so much as the era where Laporte was relevant.


Now?

NotsoMuch...

A check of the current TWIT schedule reveals just how bad things really are.  Entire days of the calendar are blank with most having maybe 2 shows recording and of those only a few stalwart remnants of the near-glory of the network's past.

Nostalgia wasn't enough and even Laporte's attempt to rekindle the vibe of his TechTV days has fallen flat with the announced cancellation of "The New Screen Savers."  Gone as well are the Iyaz Akhtar created, Know How which in later years found itself increasingly squeezed to the margins and finally choked out of existence with the exit of replacement host Fr. Robert Ballacer.  

The good Father's charisma was the only thing keeping many shows afloat in the past few years as he played stand-in for Laporte and other popular (mostly departed) hosts.  His exit in June of 2018 might as well have been the death knell for the network with Laporte the only recognizable face left.  

Those that might have taken up the reigns and brought the network to the lofty heights envisioned by its founder like Sara Lane, Tom Merritt, Brian Brushwood and Shannon Morse now long since gone.  

Their content and audience driven programming replaced by bland, also-ran drivel only an advertiser could love.  

It's not unlike so many popular YouTube channels that now focus their content almost exclusively at the pleasure of their paid sponsorship.  Don't expect a sour word about a Geforce Card from a YouTuber with NVIDIA sponsorship for example. 

So it is with TWIT.  That which destroyed TECHTV has ultimately destroyed TWIT.  It is now an also-ran competing with YouTube channels produced in somebody's garage for the same advertiser dollars.  Laporte has admitted as much saying his reason for cancelling the New Screen Savers was he was trying to... 


"do a network television show on a podcaster’s budget."

And the now all too familiar excuse for any show's demise on TWIT....

“The New Screen Savers” just hasn’t developed a big enough audience to pay for itself.". (source)

Yes folks, that's an admission of what TWIT is today.  A lowly podcast channel with the overhead of a network broadcaster and every show under the gun to perform.  Or so we would be led to believe.

Yet by Laporte's own admission the network was pulling in 13 to 14 million a year (source) which far exceeds 99% of even the largest YouTube channel's revenue.  Apparently that's not enough as the studio moved to a smaller location in 2016 and has since axed or put on hiatus at least half a dozen shows.  

Still it seems there's never enough money for TWIT and every show has to carry it's own weight.  Yet inexplicably shows like Floss Weekly and Ham Nation continue unabated even though they cater to a subset of a niche at best.  

Meanwhile shows more in line with TWIT's general demographic like Coding 101, Know How, This Week In Law and Game On get the axe.

That pool of money is a lot more contentious than it used to be too.  In at least that much we can cut Laporte some slack for TWIT's failure.

TWIT is now competing for advertisers with those same YouTube channels (some led by former TWIT hosts) with far less lofty ideals but a far more consistent viewership. 

A quick peek at the ads you'll see on the average YouTube tech channel are also found on TWIT.  With most TWIT shows struggling to break into a 4 figure audience per episode no matter where you watch them (most are low 3 figure BTW) it's not TWIT dictating the terms anymore.  Advertisers can find far greener pastures elsewhere.

Let's also not forget that YouTube creators don't have the overhead of TWIT (maybe) and can survive on much thinner margins (definitely) while providing the same mediocre content. 

That said, none of the supposed financial strife at TWIT seems to have stopped Laporte and wife/[sic]CEO  from extravagances like month-long European vacations or purchases of luxury items like his Tesla Model X (source)

There was a time when Laporte chafed at the idea of TWIT as a podcast network.  Now, he clings to it for every bit of relevancy it can afford him.

And that aint much friends.

TWIT is now like a favorite TV series that over the years has replaced the entire cast and writing staff.  Nothing remains but the set pieces and it's just not enough.

TWIT isn't dead but it's been a slow roll down the slope to the graveyard and we're far closer than we've been before.