Season finale of Lost, and the fragmentation of viewership

Last Sunday marked an interesting time in television, especially when compared to television 20 years ago.  Last Sunday night was the series finale for Lost.  The 2.5 hour event was prefaced with incredible amounts of direct and indirect marketing hype.  It was to be a pivotal event with massive viewership expected.

Total viewers for the epic finale event:  13.5 million viewers.

Sounds pretty impressive, until you compare it to the finale of M*A*S*H. 20 years ago: 106 million viewers.

I find the comparison absolutely amazing! Surely Lost with it’s pervasive reach, rabid fan base and marketing hype could reach most of America. After all, weren’t all your friends talking about the upcoming Lost finale?  But, the Lost viewership was only 12% of the size of those who tuned it for the finale of M*A*S*H.

And yet, the season finale of Lost was declared a complete success with its numbers and exposure.  If the February 29, 1983 airing of M*A*S*H would have landed 13.5 million viewers, would it have been declared a success?  I doubt it.

Today’s viewing marketing is broad, vast and diverse.  Back in 1983, there were far fewer viewing options and platforms–no Internet, Netflix, iTunes nor DVRs.

While it may sound discouraging for producers, I believe this is great news for indie producers. Today’s options are amazing.  You can now produce content directly to your audience and reach your audience through a myriad of channels.  The key is know your audience and market to your audience. Be specific. Target your message. And, be really good at what you do.


  1. Also worth noting that the U.S. population in 1983 was only 233 million. Today it’s 309 million. So to match “M*A*S*H,” it would need about 140 million viewers.

    Another difference: The season finale of “Lost” wasn’t even the most-watched episode of “Lost.”

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