The indication of success

Lately there is a lot of talk on the internet about how unrealistic the Nielsen ratings are, as many people are now using DVRs, or they simply choose to pirate the episodes for one reason or the other. I think I have found a pretty good indicator as to if a show is successful in the 18-49 age group (which is the demographic group that advertisers care about). And that’s IMDb’s comment section. It is not by any means an accurate ratings reading, but I personally find it a good indicator. Younger people are more likely to use the internet to converse about their favorite series. So over the last year I was doing my own little research on the matter, right after a new episode was airing (I got free time in my hands).

According to IMDb, “Lost” is the most popular series, with new comments occupying its comments page every 1-5 minutes when a new episode has just aired (Nielsen reports between 12-14 million viewers per episode). “Heroes” is second with about 5-8 minutes apart (Nielsen: 10-12 million viewers). “Battlestar Galactica” (BSG) is at around 50 minutes (Nielsen: 2 million viewers). “Jericho” never did better than 1 hour, which is still pretty good (Nielsen: 7 million viewers). “Prison Break” was close to 1 hour too (Nielsen: 7 million viewers). Pay close attention that while BSG is only barely viewed on SciFi Channel, in reality it has a huge following, mostly because of pirating — a clear indication that this is a kind of show that needs to explode in the internet rather than in more traditional media.

In contrast, the most watched show worldwide, “CSI:Miami”, needs 1.5 hours to recycle its IMDb comments page, and yet, it’s averaging 17 million viewers in the US. Other much-watched series like the rest of the CSIs, and “House” are similar too. This leads me to believe that these shows are much more “traditional” in a sense and are watched mostly by an older audience. Older audiences are not of much interest to advertisers though because they don’t buy whatever they see on TV as easily as younger people do.

So networks have to face the dilemma: Cancel the shows that have millions of viewers but advertisers don’t care as much, or cancel the shows that are low on ratings but high on 18-49 demographics and with more following in the internet? So far, networks are following the easy solution of canceling low-rating shows, no matter if they are actually of more interest to younger people which is the group their advertisers care about. To solve this transitional mess, in my opinion, networks must debut show episodes on the internet 1-2 hours before their TV debut, and be free for all viewers regardless of geography. Otherwise, the networks will lose the advantage of advertising because of piracy. By doing that they can measure how many times a show was viewed on their site and compare.

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