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.
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.
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.
So advertisers are booking slots based on that plus three grouping, when they can. If you’re going to have a sale on Friday, it makes more sense to advertise it on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, rather than just on Thursday. Lee mentions movie advertising for Friday film openings. The movie companies would rather advertise on a Wednesday, with a highly rated show like “Modern Family” (that will have viewing for several days), rather than on a lower rated show on Thursday or Friday, which will only have value for one day. A show like “American Idol” doesn’t have good ratings with added streaming and DVR (once you’ve read online who’s won, there’s little value in watching), so advertisers are starting to take their money to shows based on overall popularity, not just on the day they are on.
Add into that, that companies like TiVo, Dish, Hulu and the networks’ own website, can derive their ratings with far more accuracy, and give much more data, than a Neilson system, which relies heavily on diaries and a small number of set-top boxes.
However, you say, what about all the people who skip the commercials on these time shifted experiences.
Well, now, networks and advertisers are beginning to see the value in people who actually record a show and watch it, rather than put it on our TVs as an accompaniment to putting our clothes in the washing machine, or cooking and cleaning up from our dinners. They call it “appointment television” and the article mentions that advertisers are feeling that even those commercials-skippers still see the commercials as they zoom by. And they feel that there is value in that.
The article also mentions that executives feel that fans of shows are now watching entire seasons rather than the normal 50% of episodes.
This is all beginning to feel like web-based programming to me. Think about it — when you’ve subscribed to a podcast, you can watch any episode you want, whenever you want, but you can dive back into the entire back catalog and watch all of them — whenever you want, on whatever device will support playback.
It’s nice that mainstream media has finally learned what we’ve known all along — that treating media like food is the best way to get us to eat it. Let us choose when we want to eat, how big our portions will be, and what our food will be. That’s what podcatcher software, and pod listening software on our devices.
Ironically, however, as mainstream moves closer to us in the web world, podcasts and the web world are looking more and more like mainstream media.
Take Leo La Porte’s TWiT network, for instance. TWiT has grown from a few shows centered around technology to a network of over 30 shows which are online 24/7, with subject matter beyond technology — including home theater, law, photography and more.
And, as they’ve gotten more and more professional, they have moved further and further toward the way mainstream media works. The shows are now moving into predetermined time slots, have grown into often bloated lengths, and have predetermined advertising slots (which also get incredibly bloated). The commercials are slotted unpredictably within the show and are presented by the hosts, making it much harder to identify and skip them.
In other words, TWiT is staring to look a lot more like traditional, mainstream media. It sounds a lot like old-time radio.
When we see Netflix and other companies beginning film production, and podcasters emulating traditional media formats, we’re looking at both poles of the media world moving closer and closer to each other.
As a media consumer, I have mixed feelings about that, but it bodes well for content producers. We’re seeing more professionalization on one end, as formerly low-end producers try to differentiate themselves from the competition. Revision 3′s has some very well produced shows
This means that there is more work for people who do professional looking work. It’s like what happened when the Mac first came out and everybody started producing newsletters. Some of the ugliest newsletters ever! But after a short time, companies and organizations that wanted to separate them from the cheese, started hiring the people who they had blown past before in their over self-confidence. There was a value, they finally learned, in talent.
I think that we’re starting to see that in the media production world as well. Anyone can throw up an iSight camera and start a videocast. But, after the audience starts to differentiate between cheese and good content, and starts to move to the well-produced stuff, you’ll see the professionals back on top again.
Luckily, however, the equipment will still be cheap, and the distribution possibilities large enough, to leave room for new upstarts to continue to do what they do best — challenge the establishment, as they make their own stories, told in their own way.
Ironically, that establishment now includes some of our old “new media”.