Random Thoughts – Randocity!

A call to boycott ABC’s V series

Posted in computers, entertainment, itunes, science fiction, streaming media, TV Shows by commorancy on January 20, 2011

[Update: V has been cancelled as of May 13th.  Bye ‘V’.].

I have personally decided to boycott watching the new V series. No, not because the series isn’t good. It’s a reasonably good series, so far. No, it’s also not for any creative or story reasons you might think. The reason I have decided to boycott the V series is that whomever owns the rights or produces this series has decided to no longer allow streaming of new episodes in any form or on any Internet site, like Hulu or iTunes.

No more V on Hulu?

It’s not just Hulu that’s cut out of streaming for this show. It’s all streaming sites including ABC’s very own ABC.com site. You would think that since ABC owns the broadcast rights to the series and, in fact, are the ones who make the very decision whether V lives or dies as a series, that ABC would have the rights to stream this program online. No, apparently they do not. Very odd. It’s also not available on iTunes or Amazon either.

It almost seems like the producers are biting the hand that feeds them (in more ways than just one). Seriously, not even allowing ABC.com to stream episodes of V on their own site? This seems like the kiss of death for this series.

Rationale behind this decision

I have no inside scoop here, so I really have no idea what the producers were thinking. But, I can only guess that the reasoning is to force viewers to watch the show live on ABC (the TV channel) and only on the TV channel for its first run. So, on the one hand, this seems like a ratings bonanza. On the other hand, let’s explore the downside of this decision.

Viewer Demographics

Because V is very much a long continuous story arc format, if you miss even two episodes, you’re hopelessly lost. V isn’t a one-off monster-of-the-week series where you can watch an episode now and then. No, it is a long deep story arc that needs to be watched one episode at a time in order.

On top of the long story arc format, it is a science fiction program involving heavy uses of technology and intrigue. This genre choice automatically limits the types of viewers. So, the types of viewers that V tends to draw in are those who tend to be younger, tech savvy, internet knowledgeable types. Basically, the kind of viewers who tend to watch things on Hulu and download content from iTunes.

Producer miscalculation

So, on the one hand, the appearance is that this decision should allow the program to get higher ratings by forcing people to watch it live. On the other hand, Hulu and iTunes (and others) no longer have the rights to carry the back catalog of episodes to allow people to catch up.  If viewers can’t catch up, they’ll not watch it live either. If you get lost, there is no reason to watch as you can’t understand what’s going on anyway.  So, turn the channel and watch something else.

By alienating the exact demographic who tends to watch programs on Hulu combined with the lack of back catalog of episodes on Hulu for people to catch up with missed episodes, my guess is that this decision will seriously backfire on the producers. The ratings will, instead, drop and drop precipitously as the season progresses. In fact, I’d venture to guess that this decision may, in fact, be the sole reason for the death of this series. It’s clear that ABC won’t keep V on the air without viewers.  We know that.  But, you can’t keep viewers watching V by trying to appeal to the wrong demographic or by pissing on the fan base.

The streaming and Internet genie is out of the bottle.  You can’t go back to a time before the Internet and Hulu existed.  The producers seriously need to understand this. It’s unfortunate that the producers chose V for this experiment.  So far, V appears to be a good series and is probably worth watching. But, the producers also need to realize that removing choices of where and how this program can be viewed is not the answer. You need more viewers, not less.

Underground distribution

Of course, that just means that people will create xvids or mp4s of the show and distribute them via torrents.   So, instead of seeing legitimate views on legitimate sites with legitimate ad revenue, the whole thing now gets pushed underground where there is no ad revenue and views don’t help the show or the producers at all.  Not smart.  Not smart at all.

What is the answer?

The answer lies with Neilsen Ratings. In a time where streaming and instant (day after) releases are nearly common place, Neilsen still has no strategy to cover this media with ratings. TV ratings are still and only counted by live views. This company is seriously antiquated. It still solely relies on active Neilsen households watching programs live. Hulu views, DVR views and iTunes downloads do not count towards viewership or ratings. Yet, these ‘day after’ views can be just as relevant (or even more) today than live views. Today, counting only live views is fundamentally wrong.

Change needs to come with the ratings companies, not by producers trying to force the 70s viewing style in 2011. Neilsen needs to count all views of a program no matter where they are or when they are. The ratings game needs to change and must change to accommodate the future of TV. As TVs become Internet connected, this change will become even more important. Eventually, TV programming will be seamlessly delivered over the Internet. In fact, there will come a time when you ‘tune in’ and you won’t even know if it’s streamed or over the air.  In fact, why should you care?  A view is a view whether live or a month later.

Understanding Neilsen’s antiquated system

Of course, once you understand Neilsen’s outdated model, you can also understand why Neilsen is not counting any ratings other than live TV.  Why is that?  Because counting any other medium than live TV threatens the very existence of Neilsen’s service. Once broadcasters realize they can gather these numbers through Hulu, Roku, Slingbox, Netflix and other DVR and on-demand technologies directly, there is no need for Neilsen.  That is, once we’ve moved to streaming TV 100% it’s easy to get accurate counts.  Neilsen’s service was born out of the need to track viewers in a time when the Internet did not exist.  With the Internet, it’s much easier to track viewer activity and data in real time.  It’s also easy to get this information right from the places that have rights to stream.  So, with these real-time reporting methodologies, Neilsen really is no longer necessary.

Neilsen has always used an extrapolation methodology for its ratings statistics, anyway.  That is, only a tiny subset of homes throughout the country are Neilsen households.  So, when these Neilsen households watch, these small numbers are extrapolated to the larger population, even though there is really no way to know what non-Neilsen households are watching.  So, Neilsen’s ratings systems are actually very inaccurate.  Counting the numbers of views from Hulu, iTunes, Amazon, Roku, Slingbox, Netflix and other streaming sites and technologies are exact and spot-on accurate.  In fact, these numbers are so exact, they can even be traced back to specific hardware devices and specific households, something Neilsen’s rating systems have never been capable of doing.  This is why Neilsen is scared to count online views.  This is why Neilsen is no longer needed.

Goodbye V

It was nice knowing ya. My instincts all say that the fan backlash from this decision will be swift and final. If this series manages to make it to the end of the 2011 spring season without cancellation, I’ll be amazed. However, if ABC cancels this show before June, that won’t surprise me. So, unless the producers make an about-face really fast with regards to this no-streaming experiment, this series is likely already cancelled… it just doesn’t yet know it. I’d also urge anyone reading (and especially Neilsen households) to boycott the new V series and send a message to the producers that not offering streaming options is not acceptable and that your program is dead without them. I can tell you that I won’t watch this series again until streaming options become available. This is not really a problem for me as there are plenty of other TV shows available. The problem here is for the cast and crew. These people are dedicating their time, effort and livelihoods to putting this series together only to be screwed over by the producers. Such is life in Hollywood, I guess.

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