Ad industry debacle could kill your favorite TV shows, net sites

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As companies experience sharp drops in sales, some are tightening the advertising budget. While in the short run fewer ads will make television watching and web browsing a little more pleasant, if it persists you can say goodbye to a lot of your favorite free entertainment and services.

For better or worse, the Internet has evolved away from a pay model to advertising-supported free content, which was dandy during flush economic times. Times are no longer flush, though, and, some of your favorites sites, writers, and entertainment could soon disappear. Sites make money not just from running ads, but also by selling information about you to marketers who want to reach a specific audience. The recession has made ad dollars scarcer, and Internet companies are slashing budget as a result. What if your Facebook, your Linkedin, your Google Docs, your YouTube, your Craigslist or your Flickr began to charge a monthly fee?

Idol Gives and Takes Away

    ** FILE ** In this April 14, 2008 file photo, "American Idol" judge Paula Abdul arrives at the 2008 CMT Awards, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Evan Agostini, file)

    AP

    ** FILE ** In this April 14, 2008 file photo, "American Idol" judge Paula Abdul arrives at the 2008 CMT Awards, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Evan Agostini, file)

    AP

    ** FILE ** In this April 6, 2008 file photo, Robin Williams, left, and Ryan Seacrest embrace on stage at the "Idol Gives Back" fundraising special of "American Idol" in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, file)

    AP

    ** FILE ** In this April 14, 2008 file photo, "American Idol" judge Paula Abdul arrives at the 2008 CMT Awards, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Evan Agostini, file)

    AP

    ** FILE ** In this April 14, 2008 file photo, "American Idol" judge Paula Abdul arrives at the 2008 CMT Awards, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Evan Agostini, file)

    AP

    ** FILE ** In this April 14, 2008 file photo, "American Idol" judge Paula Abdul arrives at the 2008 CMT Awards, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Evan Agostini, file)

    AP

    ** FILE ** In this April 14, 2008 file photo, "American Idol" judge Paula Abdul arrives at the 2008 CMT Awards, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Evan Agostini, file)

    AP

    ** FILE ** In this April 14, 2008 file photo, "American Idol" judge Paula Abdul arrives at the 2008 CMT Awards, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Evan Agostini, file)

    AP

    This undated photo provided by HSM shows the Mosaic Earrings from the Forever Your Girl line by Paula Abdul. They might not go home with a recording contract, but Paula Abdul doesn't let any "American Idol" contestant leave empty-handed. Each season she designs and distributes jewelry for the aspiring singers as a keepsake of their experience. Beginning this month, Abdul's fans will be able to buy similar mementos from HSN. (AP Photo/HSN) **NO SALES**

    AP

    This undated photo provided by HSM shows the Opposites Attract Clutch from the Forever Your Girl line by Paula Abdul. They might not go home with a recording contract, but Paula Abdul doesn't let any "American Idol" contestant leave empty-handed. Each season she designs and distributes jewelry for the aspiring singers as a keepsake of their experience. Beginning this month, Abdul's fans will be able to buy similar mementos from HSN. (AP Photo/HSN) **NO SALES**

    AP

You probably noticed that your newspaper (if you still read one; has gone on a diet. My hometown rag now often has only an 8-page national section, which means I'm missing a lot of news because there aren't enough ads to justify the pages.

The news that NBC has signed Leno to do a nightly show at 10 p.m. is a reflection of the unsupportable cost of producing hour-long dramas. If you like shows such as NCIS, too bad; advertising isn't enough to pay the cartage for most of them. Look for HBO, Showtime and the like, which don't depend on ad dollars, to monopolize this market. If you want to watch good drama, you'll have to pay for it.

The collapse of advertising will show in many other places, too. Buses, trains, and subways won't get as much income from the billboards and overhead displays, so you may have to pay more to ride. Sports teams may have to increase ticket prices to offset lost revenue. Don't be surprised if the NFL moves more games to a pay-per-view format. Movies houses won't bring in money with those annoying ads that run between features, and movie makers won't pull in dough for product placements. Who knows- even Tom Cruise may have to take a pay cut.

Of course, we all know advertising-based services aren't free; the cost is included in the prices of the items we end up buying. But if we quit buying so many items, you can expect that the 'free' services won't be free very much longer.

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