Little things mean a lot….

Do you remember the world before post-it notes?

post-itsI do. I remember doing brainstorming with a single sheet of paper and lines and circled words. Now I do brainstorming with post-its and a wall. My world got much bigger and my ideas more flexible since I can toss a post-it without tossing out the whole wall.

Sometimes it is the little leaps in technology that has so much impact. Like Hulu.

Hulu had altered my universe – probably not for the best. You see, several years ago I had to make a major economic decision between cable TV and internet service. It was a “or” statement. I had just moved and I couldn’t afford both. By the time I could afford both I realized that I didn’t miss cable enough to spend the same amount of money as a bottle of scotch. Then I succumbed to the lure of Netflix – then to one of their streaming boxes – but my habits remained the same. I would watch something obsessively then go for days or weeks with nothing then watch obsessively again.

My viewing habits didn’t change at all until I wandered upon Hulu over a year ago. Now I watch network/cable TV again. Granted, on my schedule not theirs, but still I’m watching the same thing everyone else is…for the first time in over five years. It’s easy – Hulu sends me updates on my queues, the viewer is awesome, and I can watch early in the morning, in the middle of the day, or late at night.

For awhile I was obsessive about it – now I’m less so. Possibly because some of the shows I like have already been canceled and possibly because the bloom is off the rose. But Hulu has changed the world for me. Kind of like post-its. My world got bigger but it was still a world of my choosing.

A lot of what we are now seeing in technology is choice. And that choice is fragmenting our society in ways that I don’t believe we were expecting or prepared for. Media – especially television – seems to be a good metaphor for the “adapting after the fact” that I’m seeing in many industries. There are visionaries that are leading – but most are trying quickly to follow – and some are lagging behind.

One company that I think is lagging – at least from what I was able to glean on-line – is the powerhouse of marketing Nielsen. Shows still live and die by their Nielsen ratings. They are numbers we all understand – since we’ve grown up with them. But they are no longer the only numbers that should matter when taking into account the audience of a show because many people, like me, are no longer getting their shows via television. We are watching things for free from Hulu and network sites – and paying for shows and seasons via Amazon, Netflix, and iTunes. But from what I can find on the web – those numbers are not being counted.

I searched the Nielsen website for information their various TV Audience Measurement products and methodologies. They have the traditional houses – as they always have – and they are taking into account digital set top boxes that allow delayed viewing of shows – but there is no indication that when they are looking at anything else. Although Nielsen has an Online VideoCensus – they admit that they are still working out the kinks (the math and the way the data is gathered and presented) and don’t advise looking for trends month to month yet. So… as of yet there is no standard to take all of the different technological media sources. (And VideoCensus doesn’t include iTunes or other subscription based media from what I was able to dig up – since I don’t have inside information I could always be wrong.)

So… when they say a show like CSI gets 15.6 million TV viewers (stolen these from last week’s numbers) CBS can then add the number of views online via their website and the number of people who purchased season passes on iTunes.

But then you have V with 14.3 million TV viewers, is rated as one of the “most popular” episodes on Hulu for that week, and you can purchase the season pass on iTunes, and… how can you tell how popular something is?

In reality – was V really seen by fewer people?

That is a difference of 1.3 Million so the odds are pretty good that more people saw CSI. But how many more? And what does this mean?

We are no longer a nation that sits down and watches TV at a specific time from a single source. One of my favorite shows isn’t even on TV – The Guild is web only series and because I am obsessive compulsive I’m waiting for the season to be completed before I watch so I can do it all at once – because I can.

And what about all of us who are using more and more non-traditional mode to get media? Our are voices being heard?  

Networks are chasing the curve – trying to understand the implications of these new technologies – not leading it. Metrics that involve not only TV viewing but all the alternate media are only slowly being developed.  

Hulu was developed, not as a network, but as a technology company. With its search engine that allows you to search for any videos on the web of TV shows and Movies, it viewer which is superior to anything I’ve experienced watching shows on network sites, and it community driven aspects. The viewers run the show – clips, TV shows, and movies show up on the ranking because we watched them.

And what are Hulu viewers watching? 

Arrested Development is number 3 – and isn’t in production anymore and neither are: number 21 – Buffy the Vampire Slayer, number 33 – Kings, and number 35 – Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles*.  In July Hulu broke 100 million plays and 6.3 million unique viewers.  

So what is a success? How do we gage that?

I know that a company like Nielsen is chomping at the bit to figure this out. Not just who is watching but what segment of the market are we? I lot of my friends are into Hulu – in fact we were early adopters while it was still a beta site – we make (okay in my case that’s past tense) good money and we are consumers. Many of us are no longer using cable, dish or any of the other network services… if we are a growing trend then from Nielsen’s standpoint they need to figure out who we are and how to reach us. And hopefully allow us to impact the success and failure of network shows –

That is until the current model collapses in on itself and something else takes it place… and personally I can’t wait for that – too many of the shows I like have a loyal following but not enough for the limited hours that make up prime time. But without that filter of 3 hours a night time 7 nights a week – limited the number of shows each network can put on (and look at the chance NBC took with Jay Leno – thereby limiting the number of hours of diverse programming they could produce) we would get a bubble of creativity. And if there is an audience then there is money – if there is money there can be a show.

I’m watching it – and can’t wait until technology leaps forward yet again and sets creativity free.

~ Tess

*Apparently since the creation of the FastCompany list – Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles has been moved off of Hulu and is now viewable only on The WB’s website.


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