NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Big television networks are being forced to reshape their business models to stem the exodus of eyeballs and advertising dollars to digital platforms. Their plans are ambitious and well-funded, but the outcome is far from certain.
Major media companies led by CBS (CBS) , Time Warner (TWX) , 21st Century Fox (FOXA) and Comcast (CMCSA) , owner of NBC, are investing many millions in original content while starting new online services to protect their majority share of television's $70 billion-a-year advertising business. All are keenly aware that advertisers are moving more of their money into digital platforms, and they are eager to be there too.
Must Read: Warren Buffett's Top 10 Dividend Stocks
Time Warner, for example, is expected to launch HBOGo as standalone streaming video service sometime in the spring, an effort aimed at the 10 million U.S. households that have a high-speed Internet connection but don't get a pay-TV service. Likewise, CBS has started a subscription service of its own called CBS All Access that offers new and old shows for $5.99 a month for these so-called cord-cutters.
But whether all that will be enough for the country's largest media companies to offset a historic shift in viewers away from mainstream TV remains to be seen.
"That's the $150 billion question," Gabelli media analyst Brett Harriss said in phone interview, referring to the total revenue, advertising plus pay-TV carriage fees, from traditional TV.
As for going online, Harriss acknowledged that the big media companies are spending a lot of capital on improving the "user interface" to make "TV Everywhere" as user-friendly as Netflix (NFLX) or Google's (GOOG) YouTube.
The threats to traditional TV were underscored in a new report from Cowen & Co. media analyst Doug Creutz, who estimates that national television advertising has been roughly flat on a year-over-year basis for the last two quarters.
Ad sales growth among the broadcast networks is "significantly slowing" and their share of overall ad dollars is in decline, the report said.