Mass Media Goes New Media (and vice versa)

8 03 2012

It only took about five years, but the folks who program and distribute television are finally waking up to the idea that most of us don’t know or care what network our favorite programs are on. As I’ve said many times before, most of us use our PVR/DVRs/TiVo/TiVo-like boxes to select our programming not by network, but by name of program, time of day we want to watch, show cast or some other metadata that has nothing to do with the network that it’s on (I’d say that’s even true of HBO and other major pay cable networks). If it weren’t for that damned network logo usually annoyingly jumping away on the bottom right of the screen I’d hardly even remember what network the program was from.

The issue is further exacerbated by the fact that many of us are watching partial and whole programs online now. And while the networks would love to restrict our viewing to their own websites, that’s simply not the way that it’s happening anymore. More of us are watching whole seasons of shows way after they aired — on iTunes or Netflix, for instance.

(In fact, there’s a whole post that I could write about how the creators of episodic programming need to rethink their storytelling techniques, now that episodes are increasingly watched two or three at a time, rather than one a week.)

In yesterday’s New York Times, there’s an article by Bill Carter and Brian Stelter about how DVRs and streaming are changing how shows are rated. The article, which may be behind a paywall by now, depending on your relationship with the Times, makes the case that when these time shifting factors are taken into account, shows like “American Idol” lose their ratings dominance that they claim in the overnight ratings race.

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Update on March 10, 2012

After I wrote this article, I saw an article on Techopinions by Tim Bajarin , called Why the TV Industry is Vulnerable to Apple, in which he talks about the slow movement of the TV barons industry to accept what true video on demand really means. The piece dovetails nicely with this post.  Here is just one excerpt from this must-read piece.

But to be clear, while they are starting to embrace the Internet as a vehicle for distribution, they are doing so reluctantly. If they had their way, they would keep total control of this distribution for themselves and drive their viewers only to their dedicated sites for viewing their shows.

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This is no surprise to anyone under the age of 92, of course. Even my Mom timeshifts her daily dose of “Jeopardy” (though she does it with an amazing technology called VHS tape — which she still can buy and reuse, despite its alleged death). Yet, until recently, advertisers believed that viewers who watched shows later skipped through the commercials, making them useless. Over the years this attitude softened to credit viewers who watch shows slightly after their airdate. Advertisers and networks have agreed on a measurement called “C3″ which takes into account viewers who timeshift up to 3 days after a show’s initial airing under the theory that those viewers watch shows the way that live viewers do — top to bottom without skipping commercials. (Paul Lee, the president of ABC Entertainment, said ABC is able to “capture about 93 percent” of the value of the “Modern Family” audience with the C3 ratings, according to the Times article).

Viewers who watch a show a week, a month or years later — well, we didn’t deserve counting.

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