As the contracting economy has forced cable and nearly every other industry to search for and enact efficiencies, many execs admit that improving the broadcast TV model is a particularly thorny endeavor—and that the woes may intensify. "We’re in an era where if we don’t change the models of these local TV stations, we will be newspapers, we will be car companies," said NBCU CEO Jeff Zucker this week. Ebbing viewership, exorbitant production costs and an unhealthy dependence on advertising have coalesced to squeeze broadcast TV unmercifully. "The network television business is dying a slow death," wrote Pali research analyst Rich Greenfield. Is it any wonder, then, that NBCU, CBS and the parent companies of ABC and Fox have diversified heavily through cable properties? 1 core problem for broadcasters is sagging ratings, largely a byproduct of consumer migration to cable. During this year’s Nov sweeps period (Oct 30-Nov 26), for example, the top 5 broadcasters saw live HH ratings slip by a collective 9% versus a year ago, and live total views slip 10%, according to Magna. And per Turner research, the top 6 broadcasters have endured season-to-date (9/22-12/7) a YOY prime delivery drop of 2.64mln HHs and 2.18mln 18-49s in ’95-96. Those are by far the worst declines since all 6 nets were 1st on the air simultaneously. Meanwhile, a potential Screen Actors Guild strike and the DTV transition threaten to further erode the broadcast business. "The risk of permanent damage is very real, particularly to broadcast television," wrote Greenfield of a possible SAG strike early next year. "Another strike (following last year’s WGA strike) could meaningfully shift viewership to cable and other forms of media, entertainment and gaming." Even Disney CFO Tom Staggs said this week that ABC found it "hard to build momentum" after the writer’s strike. Additional eyeballs are also expected to find cable and other pay-TV operators with the DTV transition approaching, as ops court the remaining strict over-the-air homes. Even so, CBS CEO Les Moonves is among those believing that broadcast’s ills aren’t as dire as advertised. The network TV model "ain’t broke," said Moonves this week, citing solid recent ratings for CBS, which did post the best numbers of any broadcaster in both the Magna and Turner studies, albeit still negative. But Moonves also said that Showtime has brushed off any economic impact, posting 1.5mln sub adds this year. Coincidence?