Casual vs. dedicated viewers
So I happened to catch part of a really interesting interview with Disney CEO Bob Iger the other day on NPR’s Marketplace. In it, Iger is making a good point – that new digital delivery systems of TV shows don’t cannibalize network viewership as much as enhance & extend viewer access and engagement – but along the way he says the following: “A successful TV series will produce between 22 and 25 episodes each season. And the committed or the avid viewer of that series, in a given year, will probably watch somewhere in the neighborhood of a third of all those episodes.”
Huh? I couldn’t believe that, as it makes you wonder what they mean by “committed or avid” if they’re only watching 1/3 of a series – what other form of commitment could you imagine that consisted of 1/3 engagement in something? I checked it out with my friend Amanda Lotz, my guru for insider industry knowledge – she found a reference from another ABC exec who said that the average viewer (not committed or avid) watches around 1/3 of a series. Let’s assume that Iger got his data miscategorized, but this is a pretty significant shift in thinking about viewership. If I’m running a network and think that my most engaged viewers are only going to watch 1/3 of a series, I’m going to demand programming in the model of the 1970s, with no serialization and clear internal redundancy. The presence of series like Lost, 24, and Veronica Mars suggests that networks realize that there are a good number of viewers who do catch most episodes – but what’s the proportion of casual to avid viewership on any show?
This throwaway (probably mistaken) statistic highlights how different the knowledge media scholars have about the practices of TV viewing is from the industry’s knowledge. In studying the rise of complex narrative, I’m positing ways of viewing and engagement based on a model of active, dedicated fandom. It would be quite useful for me to have a sense of what shows have more dedicated viewers and which ones tend toward the casual, and see how narrative forms seem to attract differing viewing patterns. How do networks even count a show’s “casual viewers”? If I watch one episode, am I counted in the pool? All this data is out there, but it’s under wraps by Nielsen unless you pay the steep price – and companies who do pay for it aren’t interested in sharing. The basic lesson is to always think about how the industry “knows” its audience and how that knowledge contrasts with our own experiences and analyses.
Filed under: TV Industry, Viewers | 6 Comments