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.


Mapping online video content into the television business model doesn’t work

This morning, I was reading a blog about the Television Industry’s response to online video content.  It was a fascinating article by Clay Shirky called “The Collapse of Complex Business Models”.  He shares an example about a web series so successful that the television industry acquired the content and tried to map it into their current business model, but the project collapsed.

In spring of 2007, the web video comedy In the Motherhood made the move to TV. In the Motherhood started online as a series of short videos, with viewers contributing funny stories from their own lives and voting on their favorites. This tactic generated good ideas at low cost as well as endearing the show to its viewers; the show’s tag line was “By Moms, For Moms, About Moms.”

The move to TV was an affirmation of this technique; when ABC launched the public forum for the new TV version, they told users their input “might just become inspiration for a story by the writers.”

Or it might not. Once the show moved to television, the Writers Guild of America got involved. They were OK with For and About Moms, but By Moms violated Guild rules. The producers tried to negotiate, to no avail, so the idea of audience engagement was canned (as was In the Motherhood itself some months later, after failing to engage viewers as the web version had).

The critical fact about this negotiation wasn’t about the mothers, or their stories, or how those stories might be used. The critical fact was that the negotiation took place in the grid of the television industry, between entities incorporated around a 20th century business logic, and entirely within invented constraints. At no point did the negotiation about audience involvement hinge on the question “Would this be an interesting thing to try?”

Either the television industry needs to adapt its model or collapse under the weight of their inefficient, bloated system.  Things have to change.  He talks about what we can expect:

In the future, at least some methods of producing video for the web will become as complex, with as many details to attend to, as television has today, and people will doubtless make pots of money on those forms of production. It’s tempting, at least for the people benefitting from the old complexity, to imagine that if things used to be complex, and they’re going to be complex, then everything can just stay complex in the meantime. That’s not how it works, however.

The most watched minute of video made in the last five years shows baby Charlie biting his brother’s finger. (Twice!) That minute has been watched by more people than the viewership of American Idol, Dancing With The Stars, and the Superbowl combined. (174 million views and counting.)

Some video still has to be complex to be valuable, but the logic of the old media ecoystem, where video had to be complex simply to be video, is broken. Expensive bits of video made in complex ways now compete with cheap bits made in simple ways. “Charlie Bit My Finger” was made by amateurs, in one take, with a lousy camera. No professionals were involved in selecting or editing or distributing it. Not one dime changed hands anywhere between creator, host, and viewers. A world where that is the kind of thing that just happens from time to time is a world where complexity is neither an absolute requirement nor an automatic advantage.

When ecosystems change and inflexible institutions collapse, their members disperse, abandoning old beliefs, trying new things, making their living in different ways than they used to. It’s easy to see the ways in which collapse to simplicity wrecks the glories of old. But there is one compensating advantage for the people who escape the old system: when the ecosystem stops rewarding complexity, it is the people who figure out how to work simply in the present, rather than the people who mastered the complexities of the past, who get to say what happens in the future.

Dallas video production company, Top Pup Media, produces a variety of media projects for businesses and corporations. Productions include corporate videos, marketing videos, tradeshow videos, promotional spots, commercials, educational and training videos.