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Where Are All the Viewers?

By - October 23, 2003

While I was in NY this week talking to media types this article was published in the NYT, asking why the new network shows (such as The Next Joe Millionaire et al) were not drawing in the young viewers they were designed to snare. “It’s a mystery” seemed to be the theme of the article, which went on to blame everything from Iraq (!) to complicated television hardware. Please! Doesn’t anyone at the Times realize these folks are online, and on cell phones, or simply not interested anymore? If a show sucks, or seems to suck, or – particularly – if their friends are not *talking about it*, they will tune it out, or watch The Daily Show on TiVo, or whatever.

The article has a built in presumption that whatever is heavily hyped by a network will certainly draw its appointed Neilsen rating. After all, they hyped the new shows during the baseball playoffs, and those had great ratings! What went wrong? Steve Outing points (in E-Media Tidbits) to the lack of interactivity in these shows, but that’s only part of it. It’s also that the networks have failed two basic tests of making good media in the Internet age – connecting with a built in community (as all great magazines, sites, and blogs do), and promoting through trusted channels. The only real promotion Fox does for its shows is…during other Fox shows. And the only thing they are selling is the same kind of television experience as everyone else – titilation and escape. That’s not exactly a diverse ecology, and audience members are wising up.

It’s interesting to note that “hits” like Queer Eye or Trading Spaces have devoted audiences in the hundreds of thousands – audiences that look remarkably like magazine readerships. Hmmmm. More on this to come.

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