14 April 2008

The Curse of Cancellation...and the Potential Cure

Nearly all of us have said it, “I don’t want to get attached to any show this season because the moment I do, they’ll cancel it” and with a great many shows that turns out to be true. First, it begs the question that if we’re all saying it, then we must all be losing the same shows, and if so many of us are watching, why are they going south? Second, short of sending the GNP of a small country to a network exec’s office, how do we stop it?

The elephant in the room on this issue is that Nielson Ratings aren’t an exact science and in truth aren’t being accurately interpreted to the desires of the viewing public. Studios and ad execs knew this for a fact the moment DVD sales reflected greater interest in shows than the weekly ratings would indicate. Viewers knew the fact of it when thriving online communities and all manor of fandom sprung up around shows the studios said were failing. But in the end no one can say it as billions in advertising are decided each year based on those weekly numbers nestled in your TV guide. The dollar speaks louder than the people, unless the people with the dollars step up and start a campaign to save a show and prove it’s marketable.

Jericho fans managed it by sending tons of peanuts to CBS demanding their show back. And it worked. The execs figured that anyone willing to spend so much on demonstrating their loyalty to the show would be the type of audience that advertisers would jump to get their hands on. Ad people jumped, studio people filmed and Jericho returned…for a single season. Where the fan support was obviously there, the Nielson numbers weren’t and ultimately that meant advertisers didn’t want to spend their money to support the (high) expense of the apocalyptic drama. Fans had the satisfaction of at least seeing a close to the chapter of Jericho we were introduced to in the pilot, but it was a short story where what we wanted was a series of novels. Fortunately, the future is on our side.

The recent writer’s strike covered many things, but the biggest point of contention was the internet. With shows available for direct download or to be viewed on the studio’s website, it has created an entirely new area of revenue. Writers wanted their fair share of web-based revenue the same way they get television and dvd revenue, and they should. Billions are being made with online advertising and the content of the shows were provided by the writers—a no-brainer from the outside huh? But there’s more to online content than the strike.

Web viewing and direct downloads come with commercials you can’t fast-forward over, making the online viewer a guaranteed set of eyes on the product. That means each and every download or site viewing is being closely monitored to help track sales increase. For the first time a real number, representing real people instead of a demographic is being used to determine how well a show is doing. For the first time, they’re actually paying attention to what we’re really watching. That doesn’t mean the target demographics game won’t continue. Soon the only way you’ll be able to view a show online will be by providing demographic information that’s fed directly back to advertisers. But I see that as a good thing. Because what it does mean is that for the first time the demographics will be truthful.

That information will enlighten advertisers that women of all ages watch sci-fi, so the extraneous breast shots meant to appeal to men 18-35 aren’t as necessary. Nor is the bombardment of video game and sporting ads. Women like these things to be sure, but the greater number of advertisers you can have for a show, the better the show will do, and if ad execs are targeting women, men, teens, viewers of color and the elderly all within the same show, studios can set prices that support shows for the long haul. On top of that more shows that are outside the box have a chance because they will seem less risky with real numbers of real viewers guiding ad decisions.

And the scariest concept of all? Readers will be able to directly influence the types of shows non-readers are watching. *Nod* Yep, we’re finally coming into power these next five to ten years.

The 21st century is when it all changes. And we have to be ready. (No, I couldn’t pass up the chance to quote Captain Jack Harkness of Torchwood. A show whose DVD sales of the first season and online viewing may be what got it its third season and guarantees it a fourth.)

The Future Is Now Ramble Done

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