The cruel twist, of course, is that bloviating online isn’t a business model in the way it was for Comcast. While cable punditry could reliably rake in ad revenue — even if tilted distinctly toward prescription drugs and reverse mortgages — internet opinion-mongering drives clicks by the millions but hardly any dollars. Whatever your partisan bent, there has been something irredeemably sad in the way outlet after outlet has gone woke in an effort to convert the only audience that can be counted on to spend all day grinding through content online — progressive millennials — into cash. But getting this audience to pay for subscriptions is too often like pulling teeth, and getting it to click through for advertised products, much less make an impulse buy, is enough to drive you back to the collapsing model of cable takes.
Doubtless, TV has had the last laugh when it comes to producing profitable programming, ads and all. But cable punditry is now so obsolescent that it loses even where television, relative to online, wins. A gulf is yawning between the rising but unreliable Teen Vogue generation and the trusty but sinking Fred Thompson generation, and cable punditry is tipping into the abyss. Clickbait has its own fatal flaws, to be sure. But without a new style of news analysis, incisive intellectuals will abdicate the public square, and increasingly digital institutions will offer them a fruitful, almost monastic peace — as broader swaths of countryside go more and more to seed.