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HEROES Is Actually Popular, If You Count The Viewers Who Don’t Count In The Ratings


 

You may have already heard that Nielsen’s year-end top 10 lists include a list of the top 10 “Timeshifted” TV programs (scroll down), meaning shows that get the biggest boost in viewership from people who watch them via DVR or other methods that don’t require them to watch the episodes via the network broadcast.

Heroes, which topped the list, has always been famous for having a particularly DVR-centric following; that inspired Tim Kring’s already-legendary comment that only “dipshits” watch the show in the traditional way. Of the shows on the list, only four are actual top 10 ratings hits — The Mentalist, the two nightly telecasts of American Idol, and Survivor. Of the other six, Heroes is the one that suffers most from the gap because, first of all, the gap is so big, and second, because its actual ratings aren’t very good. If everybody who watched Heroes watched it on Monday nights on NBC, it would be a hit, even now, even after the last two seasons. But DVR viewers don’t count toward the ratings, and what’s more, they shouldn’t, because the real targets for ratings are the advertisers, and why should advertisers care about the people who aren’t watching their commercials?

Speaking as someone who used to record most of his favourite shows on a VCR and watch them at odd hours (I may be the only person in the universe who found it easier to program a VCR than a DVR), I’ll add that this isn’t new. But it’s bigger than the VCR problem because DVR eliminates the bulky videotapes and lower quality of VHS recording; shows look just as good when played back on DVR as they do when you’re watching them “live,” so what incentive is there to stay and wait for a show to come on? So more and more people are going to be DVR-ing their shows, and the networks will have to figure out how to make money off that — but how? It’s easy to say that they need to get away from the traditional business model where they rely on selling advertising time during the broadcast, but I don’t think anybody’s ever really come up with an alternative model that works for non-pay TV.

I will also add that I think there really is something gained in watching a show at the appointed time, though I’m not sure I could explain what it is. But I feel like a good TV episode is more of an “experience” when watched straight through, with no option to fast-forward or skip commercials. When I’m watching something on DVD or DVR or the Internet, I feel like I’m setting the pace to a certain extent, because I can pause, fast-forward, skip — I can practically edit the show as I go along. When I’m a captive audience for a show, I have to adjust myself to the show’s pace (which includes the commercial breaks, which are built into the pacing and structure of a show). And I think, subconsciously, the knowledge that you’re watching at the same time as millions of other people creates a sort of communal experience, even if it’s a very debased one.

None of which means we should stop watching shows at our convenience; the gains of watching shows “live” are not worth the inconvenience of having to plan our lives around the air time of a particular show. But there is something fun about watching a good episode at its actual air time, when the occasion arises.


 
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HEROES Is Actually Popular, If You Count The Viewers Who Don’t Count In The Ratings

  1. I am one of those even more awful sorts who actually scours the listings for early broadcasts of her favourite shows – for those of us blessed with timeshifting, the Atlantic stations are the ultimate in instant gratification. You still have to wait for the rest of the world to catch up before you get to discuss the latest developments, though, since otherwise, you run a high risk of committing the cardinal sin of spoiling.

  2. How much money do shows make off of product placements? I mean, I know that Top Chef uses GE Monogram kitchens, that at thanksgiving they used butterball turkeys. They shop at Whole Foods. The package everything up in the Glad line of dinnerware. They use Caphalon pots. Knorr is a big sponsor. And on and on.

    That has to be worth something!

  3. For a while, I was terribly addicted to commenting on the Onion’s AV Club forums about the TV shows I watched. But lately, I’ve been relying more on DVR to watch things (basically because my schedule has become unstable), so I might not see an episode for a few days after it came out. By that time, the forums are dead and no one will ever read any comments I might have. So, depending on your level of fandom (even if it is the “I hate ‘Heroes’ and want to complain ad infinitum about it, but can’t stop watching it” level), the ability to participate in a genuine dialogue about the show really does encourage you to watch when it is first aired.

  4. For the internet savvy, media reports about Heroes demise always seemed more than a little bit off. Go on to sites like Mininova or IsoHunt a day after the broadcast, and Heroes is by far, by an incredibly far margin (15 to 1 vs CSI, 5 to 1 vs The Mentalist), the most downloaded show each week. At any one point in the first couple of days after the broadcast, there are upwards of half a million people downloading simultaneously. As it only takes a couple of hours for most people to actually download a complete file, grey market viewership could easily be in the millions.

  5. There is not anything in the definition of “hit” or “popular” that directly necessitates the sale of consumer goods in order to qualify as such.
    I know that sellers of consumer goods like to attach themselves to “hits” and “popular” things in order to achieve their ends. I also wouldn’t dream of suggesting that advertisers should care about anyone who doesn’t care about their contributions to the popular culture, such that they are, but I suspect that hundreds of thousands or millions of people making a point of watching the show, one way or another, speaks for itself. That they prefer to watch it on their own terms, ie., on their schedule, without advertisements, says more about tv schedules and commercials than it does about the show’s popularity.

  6. “Go on to sites like Mininova or IsoHunt a day after the broadcast, and Heroes is by far, by an incredibly far margin (15 to 1 vs CSI, 5 to 1 vs The Mentalist), the most downloaded show each week.”

    … until Doctor Who or BSG come back, at least. Higher geek quota = much higher downloads, and Doctor Who especially has the advantage that, for all of North America, the “real” way to see the show is to download it.

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