May 13, 2007
The Era of Hits Is Over

I saw a recent note that echoes the sentiment I have said here many times, and I figure it doesn't hurt to repeat oneself if it is a message the industry doesn't completely get yet.

So, if you feel like I'm sometimes on a broken loop about respecting engagement and qualitative aspects of viewing instead of just impressions...or about the importance of collaborating with a fan community rather that setting a media property or brand in opposition of that community...or about the need for new advertising models and new ways to conceive of and allow for transmedia storytelling...or reversing the extreme niche demographics that deny surplus's another message that bears repeating:


Shows may still be popular, but the modern media environment means that more choice will inevitably equal fewer viewers for a particular show. This doesn't mean these shows are not as good or even that the audience isn't as valuable. In fact, the audience that IS left is probably going to be more engaged by percentage than ever, because there are many fewer casual viewers. The problem is that we have devised a system in which distinguishing between involved and uninvolved modes of viewing has been pointless.

The latest person to deliver this message from some noticeable forum was former MTV executive Herb Scannell, at the PaidContent EconSM social media conference.

Daisy Whitney from TelevisionWeek included a short report, in which Scannel said that a hit like Friends will likely never come along again because the options have proliferated so much since that time.

He was quoted as saying, "Hits are getting hard in any business. You are starting to see a change in which what we thought of as being hits are no longer going to happen anymore. So I think brands will speak to people that are connected by a passion."

This echoes the sentiment of Chris Anderson at this year's NATPE conference, in which he said that shows are just going to be "less hitty" in the future, and that the industry should accept that. To return to my sentiment from January:

This up-front, make-your-money-from-advertising model was the way television was structured before products had a shelf life beyond syndicated distribution, but the economic model is shifting now. The many ways products can live on through Internet distribution, mobile content, DVD distribution, video-on-demand, and a variety of other forms of cross-platform distribution means that television producers who are making shows are no longer producing one-time ephemeral content but rather a media property that could live on well into the future in various formats.

But the industry still isn't structured that way. If a show dips in ratings, it could quickly become yesterday's news, and it seems the shows are becoming even more drop happy at a time when the economic model should be shifting in the opposite direction.

By the way, Scannel is one of the minds behind Next New Networks, the online site featuring a series of micro-channels that I first wrote about back in March.


On May 16, 2007 at 12:33 PM, Tom Willerer said:

I couldn't agree more, and I think the way we define a "hit" needs to be reconsidered. To me, a hit isn't a show that attracts a lot of viewers, but rather one that leverages all media (i.e. American Idol, Matrix, etc.)


Tom, you raise an interesting question here, being a hit being one that doesn't necessarily draw as many viewers but leverages multiple media. I guess the key there is that it makes the viewer count multiple times because, even if there are a lower number of viewers, they engage on multiple platforms.

I think the Long Tail has to be taken into effect as well, in that a hit could be determined more by its perceived longterm value rather than just the popularity of its first showing.