Swallowed Up

Not to self-promote too much, but it occurred to me while writing earlier that my involvement with TechTV actually goes farther back than my employment with the channel. About five and a half years ago, I reported on ZDTV (the station’s former name) for Wired: “You-Gotta-Be-Kidding TV.” It was my first assignment after I left the magazine to try my hand at freelancing and my first long feature ever. It’s pleasing to read now; I think it’s held up pretty well.

One small personal irony is that now I’m going back to freelancing, at least for the time being (I don’t anticipate doing a story on the channel now, though). A larger irony is that, through a history that involved ownership and management changes and a couple huge shifts in programming philosophy, ZDTV/TechTVmet the big challenges I wrote about. It kept expanding its reach, building an audience (a small but growing one), and establishing an ad base that was far richer than what even the CEO anticipated when I interviewed him (the big win there was to get past the reliance on tech-related advertising and bring in consumer companies, like carmakers; in fact, it’s similar to the ad mix that made Wired a publishing phenomenon). But despite the success, the channel is history.

On one level, the swallowing up of TechTV is just the way business goes. An early analysis of the sale called it “a teardown“: Comcast was buying the property to knock down the house (our programming, staff, and other assets), keep the real estate (our access to 43 million cable- and satellite-subscriber homes) and put up something new there (its G4 game channel, which has reportedly run through a big pile of money and has just 13 million or so households). Fine, it’s their dough, and you can play that way if you ante up. That doesn’t mean it’s a smart play, though you can’t really blame the buyers. The perverse part is the fact the former owner (Paul Allen) sold the property without any apparent concern whether it would be torn down or not. All you people who’ve worked to build this into something — get moving, because the building’s coming down.

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