Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Internet kills the TV star

TV is dead. Or should be.

Currently, the networks are working on an outdated model that requires viewers to watch tv when the network says they watch it. The big news these days is how viewership -- even on Heroes -- is down dramatically since the start of daylight savings time. By about a few million viewers. But no one seems to be talking much about the rise of internet tv.

It was introduced with much fanfare last year when ABC decided to plug the final episodes of Alias that way and I haven't watched tv now in about 6 months as each network has followed suit. If I can't watch a series on-line, I just haven't gotten into it. The series I have started were because I caught up with them halfway through by watching them online. (Heroes & I got to know each other New Year's Eve -- I was sick and stayed home and watched the first 11 episodes!) I'm currently skipping the last two episodes of Veronica Mars because I can watch them when I have time tomorrow.

Why are networks not releasing the numbers of people who are watching tv online? They continue to rely on the Neilson ratings, which are showing a drop that I don't think is actually reflective of tv viewing habits. If people stopped watching their favorite shows because the weather turned nice, does it suggest that maybe they're saving them for later on their computer screens? And, it's a lot easier (and doesn't require a third party ratings company) to measure the number of hits a video gets so ratings are suddenly more comprehensive and accurate.

The ratings game must be reworked and the ad system will have to follow suit. Currently there's a rather good system going where a single advertiser interrupts the show a minor amount of times (except NBC, which seems to think 6 30 sec commercials will keep me watching) though there need to be some variety. Even a good commercial ceases to be as good 10 minutes later.

But a far more sensible way is to publicize the things in a character's life. Clothing, furniture, paint on the walls. So much goes into making a tv show hip that no one really gets credit for -- but I see a nice mixing bowl on a show and I might decide it would be perfect in my house. How do I find it? Well, I don't -- no one publicizes this amazing marketing opportunity!

The tv viewer is quickly evolving into a watcher who values his own independence in the process. Rather than being told when to watch, she wants to choose the most convenient time. Rather than being told what to buy she wants to spot the "it" item and find it for herself. And the sooner the networks realize this, the sooner ratings can actually reflect who's watching. And, hopefully, we can move to a model that allows good shows with fewer viewers to stay on the air.

R.I.P. : Alias, Veronica Mars, Millennium...

1 comment:

Tim said...

I've been telling people for awhile that in the next generation television watching as we know it will be a quaint notion. Of course most people are simply bemused or else look at me like I'm crazy. I saw an excerpt from a recent speech by Bill Gates in which he said essentially the same thing...except he expects it to happen in the next five years...and he probably knows more about it than I do. The evolution of the internet from a primarily text based medium to a more visual one is becoming a revolution. All those missing viewers are using alternatives like TiVo and I-pods and they're on sites like MySpace and YouTube...especially the younger demographic. Even older folks like myself are in the habit of watching as much or more programming on the internet than on the good old boob tube. I got hooked a few years back when I began subscribing to MLB.TV during the baseball season. It gives me the ability to not only watch any one of several games, and switch back and forth, but I can also at the same time open a window to track my fantasy baseball team and I have access to a wealth of information, such as real time statistics or scores with the click of a mouse. And if the game is a blow out I can even read my email or surf the web. That coupled with the conveniece of being able to watch anytime and almost anywhere makes the internet an experience that traditional television just can't compete with as far as I'm concerned.