August 6, 2007
CBS' Schizophrenic Response to the Jericho Situation

Seems like CBS has been sending a lot of mixed messages lately. Or else just demonstrating the confused nature across the television landscape. CBS is just a particularly good example, given all the fervor surrounding the cancellation, then renewal of Jericho. (See Nancy Baym's following of the Jericho phenomenon; I link to her here and here.

I've been e-mailing with Lynn Liccardo lately, who pointed out an interesting distinction in the CBS timeline. It was back on June 07 when CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler told The New York Times, "We want them to watch on Wednesday at 8 o'clock, and we need them to recruit viewers who are going to watch the broadcast."

Then, just three days later, Les Moonves said in an interview with The New Yorker's Ken Auletta at a Newhouse School/New Yorker breakfast:

You know, we started this company a year and a half ago when we split from Viacom, and people said, "Oh, CBS. That's the old media company." We prefer the word traditional. The people that were downgrading or denigrating us--"this is the slow growth company"--weren't acknowledging that this is a major time of transition, where our goal basically is to get our product--our content--everywhere it can be, anywhere it can be. So at the end of the day, as long as I'm getting paid for it, I don't care whether you are watching CSI on CBS at 9 p.m. on Thursday night, on your DVR, if you are getting it on, or So once again, the distinction, you are still watching CSI.

Of course, it would seem that one statement contradicts the other, that the former indicates the honesty of a business model still predicated on a previous form of viewership, while the latter demonstrates a reconceptualization of what television even means, divorcing it from its current linear constraints. This is not to pick on CBS in particular, but rather to show the fractured logics that industry voices have right now, the lack of solidarity within any media company about how to handle the fact that it's increasingly obvious that the way the television industry is constructed isn't really reflective of the true realities of consumption, yet there's no clear and easy way to just switch over to some new system.

While Lynn, points out the ironies between these two statements, I would like to direct your attention back to a post I wrote late last month, where it was Moonves at this point saying that the network didn't realize how popular Jericho was because so many people were watching on DVR and the Web, and those fans need to "show up on the television." At the time, I mused about how I found it strange that the DVR isn't considered television in the first place and further wrote:

The problem is that viewers are traditionally conceived of not as the consumer after all, in the TV industry, but as the product, and advertisers are the consumers. But losing viewers makes the whole process fall apart. I find it ironic that, even as change moves at a slow pace, the industry seems intent on moving at an even slower one, so that it still remains unable to account for these gradual changes in the media environment.

I imagine that, if Jericho doesn't perform better this fall, it will likely be deemed a failure by the network, and fans may be blamed further for not getting those viewers to the televisions on Wednesday nights (but, please, only those who have Nielsen boxes are really important...), instead of figuring out how the system failed a show that people wanted to engage with, perhaps just not in the traditional broadcast model.



You are correct in all you said but it gets worse. CBS is pre-empting Jericho Aug. 10 and Aug. 24. Not only that but various affiliates have pre-empted the show for the last 2 weeks. How can Jericho expect any decent ratings from this? In the meantime, nobody is seeing any promotion from CBS and here's one for you. CBS wants us to get new viewers and we do then they don't even announce that a known pre-emption is coming. New viewers are left hanging.

On August 6, 2007 at 4:59 PM, Need2No said:

Who do they think they are kidding? When I go to the supermarket, I whip out my green & white card which records who I am and what I am purchasing. Furthermore, I pay for it with my debit card which again records who I am and where I spent the money. For the last 12 years I have received my TV (including local channels) from DirecTV through a computer controlled descrambler which records who I am and what I watched; prior to DirecTV, I received my TV through a cable box which recorded who I am and what I watched. Hell, the Library records what books I check out!

Now tell me why network TV cannot count that I watched Jericho every night it was on ON MY TV IN REAL TIME?

I Need2No this. Thank you.

On August 6, 2007 at 5:11 PM, Grace, with family of four said:

GREAT article!! THANKS SO MUCH!! This is exactly what needs to be written to modernize the Nielsens. Keep up the good work!
My family of 4 watch JERICHO every week but we don't count because we are not Nielsen families.
NOT FAIR!!! NUTS TO CBS if they don't count us!!


On August 6, 2007 at 5:45 PM, Weston Fryatt said:

"(but, please, only those who have Nielsen boxes are really important...), "

It really doesn't matter how many "new" viewer Jericho get or for that matter how many people over all watches the show or how many times they watch the show, Because your viewing is NEVER counted. What CBS and the other major network need to be doing right now is to look to the Cable Companies and see if they can come up with a way of recording the channel data from the cable boxes. That will give them a much wider sampling of the "real" viewer out there, instead of re-hashing the same old dead house with the Nielsen system.


I am certain that when television became popular, the radio nets struggled with making this new medium work for them, and likely fought it. However, TV is what the VIEWERS wanted, and without viewers there is no programming. Thus, the nets will have to adapt to Internet viewing and other technologies that are changing the face of entertainment.

On August 6, 2007 at 8:50 PM, Jayhawkgirl said:

I watch Jericho live, because I do not have a DVR or TIVO. I am also not a Nielsen family, but feel there should be some way for my viewership to count. I feel that I am the consumer not the advertisers. I do watch the commericals during television shows, and they do influence my buying habits to a great extent. I feel that the Jericho fans have done there part in promoting the show, and continue to do so. CBS is also responsible for doing there part in this process.
CBS has done a great job with their website for the fans of Jericho. I not only watch live episodes but also watch on innertube. I think CBS and other networks need to really listen to the fans, and not just rely on Nielsen ratings when deciding the fate of a show.
The Nielsen system is outdated, and should not be the only way to judge the sucess of a television show.

I know that I will keep fighting for Jericho, and will continue to draw as many new viewers as I can.

Thank you for the article.

On August 7, 2007 at 12:05 AM, Terocious said:

The title alone speaks volumes.

On August 7, 2007 at 5:29 AM, Valerie said:

Even without a dvdr, my cable company tracks what channels their boxes are tuned to. The dvdr system shuts down for two minutes each night to download the activity of each dvdr. All of this is recorded and available. CBS should be able to tell to a much greater degree who is watching now than every before with over 70 percent of households using either cable or satalite. They have access to even more information when considering dvdr's. Itunes and innertube viewing of shows should be simple to count. Its time for a realtime measure of what is being watched and the multiple ways shows can be seen is acknowledged. Jericho showed that the audience for a show is not acurately represented when taking into account only one type of viewing and it is time to catch up with the modern age of technology.


Thank you! From the moment CBS announced their new show "Jericho" last Spring, they actively cultivated the huge online presence that eventually saved the show.

Many of us feel like we've been beating our heads against the wall in our continuing efforts to keep it on the air.

The Nielsen ratings are outdated, and the networks PROMOTE watching episodes on their websites for free, or downloading them for a small fee. Then they tell us that those viewers don't count! Funny, we are still getting advertising (so I know they are making money). Does ANYONE in the industry look to the future and it's fabulous potential?

People want to watch shows when it's convenient for them and DVR's and downloads make that possible. To continue to think that a few people with 'rating boxes' speak for so many is nothing short of ludicrous.


Jane, I hadn't heard about all the preemptions of the Jericho reruns, since it seems to undermine both the chance for potential new viewers to get caught up on the series and their desire to train people to watch it at a particular time, since it isn't even coming on consistently at that time in the first place. I'll have to confess that I haven't watched Jericho because of my fear that I would get into good shows, only to have networks cancel on me. Refer back to this comment I made last November:

If people aren't willing to devote themselves to a series while it's on the air because they are afraid the cancel-happy networks are just going to pull the rug out from under them, does this mean that the need for a new model is developing for these types of shows? It seems that this current system, where networks want to push shows that are more involved and have a longer shelf-life, is contradicting with the older form of throwing on self-contained shows at the beginning of a season and quickly canceling many of the series.

Need2No, I would say the simplest answer is that the Nielsen ratings have become the currency that the industry trades on, regardless of whether they are in any way indicative of what people are watching. And that doesn't even get into quality of viewership at all (and you can find plenty written here by myself and Eleanor Baird recently about the problems with the industry trying to create a simple way of understanding audience engagement...)

Grace, you might be interested in reading this for another perspective on frustrated fans who feel like they were being ignored because they didn't have Nielsen boxes.

Weston, Nielsen is trying to do several things to update its system, but everyone realizes its's just not comfortable talking about, because the system that worked when there were like three networks just doesn't anymore when there are so many competitors for the viewers' attention.

Teresa, as I pointed out in the piece I wrote previously that I linked to here, it does seem bizarre for claiming that the customer ISN'T right in consuming the product in the way they want to, but...then's important to remember that the audience is really the commodity in the way the television industry is set up, to be sold to advertisers. It's a mindset that I think is, in many ways, impeding progress in reconceptualizing the profit model for television shows, thinking only of first-run revenue streams.

Jayhawkgirl, I want to point out that I am in no way completely chastising CBS. In fact, they deserve a great deal of credit for bringing Jericho back at all, since most network executives would have just ignored the viewers and stuck by their decision. It still is a revealing moment, though, when the warts of the industry are exposed more publicly.

Terocious, thanks for the compliment. :)

Valerie, I think the new metrics taking into account DVR viewers who watch the shows within three days is a step in the right direction, but you'll notice that the television industry often accepts changes in its business model as slowly as possible, because there's always the next business day, and it's easier to hang on to the old ways of doing things as long as possible.

Kay, as I've alluded to throughout these responses, I think the key here is the short-term mentality of only looking at the first-run revenues off advertising as the whole of the business model, when watching television is becoming less and less linear.


It is time for the networks to realize that the Nielsen ratings system is outdated. My fear with Jericho is that CBS will run the seven new shows and then cancel the series again because they have not fixed the problem of how to measure viewers.


From a viewer-side, it's a pretty legitimate concern. And, in some small way, I'm afraid that it makes people afraid to get into new television series, for fear they will be pulled. If you watch a not-very-complex, not-very-serialized show, perhaps you won't care too much if it gets cancelled, but I find myself scared to invest into a new immersive show, for fear that it will set up questions and then never even get the chance to answer them...In some ways, it's an environment that encouraged lowest-common demoninator television, especially for the main networks, since the pressure is much higher there than on cable networks, ratings-wise.

On August 8, 2007 at 7:29 PM, lynn liccardo said:

well, i don't know if it was the ironies that attracted my attention as much as the seeming contradictions between the two statements. i think sam did a great job teasing out and explaining why lay beneath the disparities, which was why i sent it along in the first place:)

this is, of course, a question that has huge implications for the future of daytime soaps. at the end of the day, it's always going to come down to money -- how the various platforms will generate sufficent revenue streams. as several of the comments noted, the technology (well beyond the nielsens) is in place to track this. the networks just have to figure out how to put all the pieces together, and given the financial implications, they have every reason to do that sooner rather than later.

i do think sam nailed it when he said:

"the fractured logics that industry voices have right now, the lack of solidarity within any media company about how to handle the fact that it's increasingly obvious that the way the television industry is constructed isn't really reflective of the true realities of consumption, yet there's no clear and easy way to just switch over to some new system.


Lynn, hope I did the situation justice, and I appreciate your forwarding it along to me. I really feel that the quote you copied is key as well, because our arguments fall on deaf ears if we don't take into account some of the reasons WHY the industry doesn't just do what seems completely logical from the outside, in both daytime and primetime.

I use this quote often, but I'm reminded of Paul Simon's "American Tune" in all of these cases, where he muses about what's going wrong in our country and calls it the "age's most uncertain hour," but then concludes, "Still, tomorrow's going to be another working day, and I'm trying to get some rest. That's all I'm trying--to get some rest."

And that's the problem with changing the television industry, an industry that can't take a hiatus to work on itself and then come back, new and improved...These changes have to happen slowly then.