Sunday, March 16, 2008

New Power Ratings Make This Blog Omnipotent

Television as we know it is changing. Though I still have my appointment TV, there are plenty of shows that I catch up with online--30 Rock and Friday Night Lights are among them. What's so interesting to think about is that this online TV technology has only been in existence for two years. I remember buying a season pass for Lost on iTunes and then hearing that ABC was going to start streaming the series online--a novel concept, that we could watch shows legally for free on the internet.

iTunes video downloads have been around a little longer than that, but not by much. Even TiVo and DVD box sets are relatively new technology. Not long ago, if you missed an episode of your favorite show, you might have a chance to see it again if it reran over the summer...or you'd have to wait for syndication.

So it boggles my mind--and, frankly, I think it's got a lot of people majorly stressed out--that the Nielsen ratings still have such an iron grip on advertising dollars. For a few years now, it's seemed that network executives and advertisers alike have been trying to come up with a new system of doing business. They want to take TiVo into account and they want to figure out how to account for the fact that when people like Caroline Carter sit down to watch Lost at 8:58, she ain't getting up from the couch until 10:02.

Optimedia recently released what is being called "the media industry's first multi-media ratings report."

Instead of looking solely at how many people tune in to a show, they're looking at a wider variety of factors, in keeping with the changing viewership of television:

1. Audience size across TV, Web and mobile properties
2. Audience appeal, including awareness, core values, and quality
3. Interest, which includes PR and news mentions and word-of-mouth buzz
4. Streaming--watching the program online

What happened when they did this was pretty great, at least for the Chaos in General crew. What happened was that our shows, the shows we watch because we think they're high-quality entertainment, absolutely skyrocketed in value.

Grey's Anatomy rose from #7 to #3.

The Office rose from #79 to #6.
When The Office was at risk of cancellation after its first season, iTunes download numbers absolutely saved this show. It's still on the rise in the Nielsens, but this shocking discrepancy in value shows, I think, the rabidity of the online fan community (Optimedia Factor #2), the number of people watching this show on NBC.com or elsewhere (Factors #1 and #4), and the media attention paid to the show (Factor #3). Honestly, The Office has become such a universal part of my life (particularly my college campus), that if you asked me to guess its Nielsen rating, I probably would have put it somewhere around #15. This show's audience is young: we watch it online, we watch it often, we have the bobbleheads and the DVD boxed sets, and we use "That's what she said" jokes whenever possible.

Lost rose from #15 to #7. There's no fandom out there that's as intense about our show as Lost's. I mean...enough said.

Pushing Daisies rose from #38 to #13. If you're not watching this show, I'll repeat my two word associated with this show: precious and whimsical.

30 Rock rose from #88 to #18. Its humor is similar to The Office's, except that it's maybe even funnier. (It doesn't have Jim and Pam, though, so...) I'm also obsessed with Tina Fey lately. Frankly, who's not? She's the best.

Other shows with huge jumps include Gossip Girl (#115 to #15), Ugly Betty (#51 to #11), and Prison Break (#59 to #20).

Meanwhile, CSI, Deal or No Deal, CSI: Miami, and Survivor dropped dramatically in value. House, a show we cover here, dropped from #6 to #10.

But perhaps the most shocking jump--and the most critical at this point in its history--is Friday Night Lights which moved from #84 to #17. Suddenly, this severely-on-the-bubble show with heart and wit and, damn, that Kyle Chandler, goes from being a critical darling with no audience...to a top 20 show.

There's clearly a sense of "I told you so" in this new ratings system. I'm constantly frustrated by the fact that the shows I watch are SO good and yet SO seemingly underappreciated. This Top 20 list says to me, "Hey, Caroline, you make good TV choices." And I'm grateful for that.

Now, we realize that this new system isn't perfect. We're not even really sure how much credibility Optimedia deserves. But I think their study shows something really important: that at the very least, we need a new system. Networks and advertisers need to take a step back and reevaluate their money situation, because to cancel Friday Night Lights is a mistake when you look at these numbers. Maybe the money to be made from FNL comes from internet ad revenue or product placement, but, people, as Aaron Sorkin's Sports Night once told us, "Anyone who can't make money off of Sports Night needs to get out of the money-making business."

Before networks finish making the cuts for next season, they should seriously take a look at this list. I'm sure it's not perfect, but there's strong justification here for not cancelling FNL.

Television is changing. We have TiVo and the patience to wait until tomorrow or this summer to catch up on the shows that are premiering right now. (I'm just now watching last summer's season of Weeds.) Damon Lindelof thinks that one day soon a computer is going to replace your television, and we'll all be sitting around watching an HD monitor. If we're willing to introduce all of these new methods of watching, shouldn't we also be willing to accept that a lot of people are going to take advantage of them?

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