Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Lets Look At Television!

I was doing a little research today on the Neilsen ratings and how they are obtained. The first way these ratings are gathered is through an extensive system of demographic surveys, in that certain people and families are selected and asked to keep a journal of what they watch, when they watch. This way is pretty basic and is used by all types of industries to gather information about product use. The second, way, however is pretty shady. Through devices planted in cable boxes and the like, called Set Meters, Neilsen ratings are gathered about what your watching. Ergo, if your watching ABC on Monday, someone, somewhere is going to know about it and use that information to give favorable ratings to shows. I'm sure my television watching habits buck the trend. My day typically consists of The Discovery Times Channel, 5 or 6 hours of news from all the news sources, and Star Trek on Spike TV. I cannot remember the last time I actually watched network television in prime time. The only time I'm actually watching CBS is when Lincoln Financial is showing Ole Miss on a Saturday.

The problem with the Neilsen ratings system is it reports according to view watching habits, but does not reflect content. Now I know what your thinking, thats what the Emmys are for, well I don't give two shits about the damn Emmys or any awards shows for that matter. I'm talking about measuring quality. Unfortunately, today, there really isn't a way to measure quality of a television program or channel.

With the rise of the internet into the entertainment medium, coming close to punching television's lights out, big networks and cable channels are getting scared. I don't know too many people today who don't get at least part of their information and news from the internet, not to mention fluff entertainment sources like youtube. Many moons ago, the prophecy was that the integration of all entertainment and information technology would occur in a few years. The great problem is that big money corporations like Newscorp, and GE have delayed the transition because they can't yet discover how to profit from just streaming an entire channel online. Sure, they dish out a few programs here and there online, but nothing that significant.

Why are they so scared? Obviously, losing ad revenues is a frightening concept for these big companies, but I say isn't it time we as a society stop consolidating power and money with entertainment? Why did Jerry Seinfeld need to make a billion dollars an episode? Why do commercials on The Super Bowl cost a ca-trillion dollars a second? Entertainment is meant to be entertainment, not a cornerstone of the GNP.

I listen to a lot of public radio. One of the best shows is Ira Glass' This American Life. A while back they did a show about entertainment and television and featured a segment regarding a television station a guy tried to develop. As strange as it might sound, it was called The Puppy Channel. This guy, who happened to be a retired television and marketing guy, had been in the hospital for some extensive surgery. During his time there he watched a lot of television and was disgusted with the bile that was flung at him vaguely representing entertainment. He came up with the idea of a channel that just showed images of puppies doing funny puppy stuff. After getting out of the hospital he did some research and filmed a pilot. In all of his testing audiences he got higher ratings than Court TV and a few other garbage current television stations. His idea was so basic and so poignant that it really stuck with me. Puppies on television, no voiceovers, no commercials, but paid for with product placement of dog food and other stuff related to dogs. After pitching the idea to a few executives and companies he was laughed out of the building, despite having the extensive market research showing that the Puppy Channel could be more successful than several current shit channels.

This idea got me really thinking. Channels like this could be great. The Landscape Channel. Just sweeping views of valleys and nature, set to classical music. How about The Job Channel, where jobs are listed from all over the country and people just discuss what they do? I think its time to rethink what we want television to do. Neilsen be damned.

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