I spent the past week on a work vacation of sorts in Austin, Texas, which is a good thing. But one annoying thing was when I was stuck in an airport, and couldn’t tune out the ubiquitous TV monitors blaring the CNN Airport Network.
As a longtime news junkie, I used to consider this TV broadcast in airports to be a service, a way to get updated on top news while on the go. But now it feels like overkill, with so many other ways to get news. I could open my laptop and go online to get news. I could go to a nearby airport bar or restaurant to watch TV. I could get news updates on my smart phone or PDA, if I had one and wanted them bad enough.
The CNN Airport Network was on the cutting edge when it was launched in 1992 as the first satellite-delivered news service for travelers in airports. But now in a world of so many personal media options, it’s time to take down those monitors. In one airport gate, I was basically held hostage to the TV, blaring news summaries at high volume, repeated over and over and over. Imagine being stuck for three hours and seeing the same thing repeated endlessly.
Can you ask an airline representative to change the channel? Turn down the volume? Analyze the news? At some point, having TV in public spaces becomes more of an annoyance than a helpful service. And my guess is that if CNN and its airport partners don’t tone it down in some way, the brand they’re selling will lose its luster.
And that goes for TVs that have sprouted up in other public spaces, from grocery checkout lines and Wal-Marts to elevators. We are of course drawn to these TVs, especially if they have informative and entertaining programming for us. But when does the insertion of these media in public spaces become burdensome? When will we choose to shop or take elevators elsewhere in order to avoid the nattering TV boxes, hurting the very businesses that are raking in money from these services?
Sure, we can look away, we can put in our iPod earbuds and tune it out. But that’s not the point. If the airports and grocery stores and other public places push too far with invasive media in our lives, those media — and their advertisers — will leave a nasty taste in our mouths. And CNN knows quite well that we have other cable news options if we tire of their service.
If media and advertising are becoming less about broadcasting to the masses and more about a one-on-one conversation, I fail to see how these types of broadcasts fit in — especially when they can hold you hostage at an airport gate.
What do you think? Do you like the CNN Airport Network or other public TV services? Or do you agree that their days could be numbered? Share your thoughts in the comments.
UPDATE: After posting this, I received a message from William Jeakle, who was one of the architects of the CNN Airport Network. We had an extensive phone conversation about the history and success of the network, and I posted much of that in an extended follow-up entry.