Does anyone remember ZDTV and TechTV? It was originally owned by Ziff Davis Publishing, and then bought by Paul Allen. Which was the reason for the two different names. But even though it had different names and different owners, it was essentially the same network.
It was such a great network. It billed itself as a network for technology, but it ended up becoming a little more than that. But not too much. They expanded slightly into entertainment, and created a show for video games. But aside from that, it remained squarely targeted to its particular, yet large demographic. And that was just technology enthusiasts. Not enthusiasts of any particular age group or mindset, just everyone who enjoyed tech in general.Eventually, Big Brother bought out the network. Nay, it didn’t buy the network, but the viewers of said network. Big Brother was in the form of a large cable company. Big Brother owned a video game channel called G4. Big Brother bought what would then be TechTV, and created a “merged” network called “G4TechTV”. The combined programming line up was just as awkward as the combined name, and the combination lasted only around a year until the network reverted to simply “G4” again, and dropped virtually all of the original Tech/ZD TV programming. Eventually, the last remaining show, “The Screen Savers”, would be reformatted as an entertainment show and would be renamed “Attack of the Show”.
And that did it for what was once a wonderful network. The final stake had been driven into its heart. The soul of the network does live on, however. Many of the active participants and hosts moved online to create sites such as digg and podcasts such as This Week In Tech. They took much of their audience with them, the same loyal audience that had abandoned the monster that consumed their once beloved network.
It’s sad that this has to be a retrospective, because it doesn’t seem like that long ago that the network was in its prime. It’s also sad, because corporate finance has killed what was once a very fine network. In the heyday, I was a very loyal viewer of ZDTV. There were many shows that I watched basically every day. The two main shows were Call For Help and The Screensavers. Both were tech call in shows that not only helped viewers with problems, but discussed and reported the world of tech. Neither covered a particular topic area, but simply discussed whatever was hot. Whether that was video gaming, networking, whatever. Didn’t matter. Both were hosted by friendly and personable Leo Laporte. Laporte had grown popular with his audience because he had developed a rapport with them. Many networks are envious of Adult Swim on Cartoon Network because of its ability to effectively communicate with viewers. That level of communication is nothing compared to the vibe between Laporte and his audience. When you watched one of his shows, you felt as if you were having a friendly talk with a good friend in your living room. Just a good friend who was very, very knowledgeable in technology and could help you out with virtually any tech problem you may have.
Unfortunately, Leo wasn’t what Big Brother was looking for. Big Brother wanted to appeal to who could spend the most for their advertisers. The big money was with other rich suits like Electronic Arts and such that would pay for advertising on their network. And for that kind of advertising, you need that kind of programming. And for that kind of programming, you need that kind of host. Eventually, this amounted to hosts who would wear blazers over t-shirts with smarmy text on them who would spout immature and annoying puns all day. They even converted former ZDTV host, Adam Sessler into one of their own. Where once he was a knowledgeable and personable video game journalist, he’s now an annoying mouthpiece trying to make you laugh instead of making you informed. Big Brother also turned Leo Laporte from friendly neighbor to the old man on campus who just got in the way. Leo didn’t change, the targeted demographic did.
So what do we have now? A network targeted at a very specific group. Mostly, pubescent seventeen year old boys that are spoiled by thier parents that will buy them any console or game they want. That same network was once for everyone. Unfortunately, money is what matters to Big Brother, not viewer satisfaction. And in the end, everyone except that annoying seventeen year old loses out.