Every season, TV viewers wait anxiously to find out if their favorite shows will live to see another season. As ratings sink across the board, the TV networks are under more pressure than ever to produce a hit. In the TV industry, patience no longer seems to be considered a virtue, and as a result has hit an all time low. The result is that some shows, many of which received early praise, get the axe before even finishing their first season.
This short fuse is a relatively new phenomenon. Generally it takes time for a show to find itself and establish an audience, and in the race to find a ratings winner, many shows these days aren’t getting the time they need to do just that and potentially blossom into that which the networks so desperately seek. Some of the all time great TV shows, from Cheers to Seinfeld, began their lives with unenviable ratings, only to hit their stride in later seasons. Considering that, the next Seinfeld may have already been prematurely canceled.
Part of the problem is Nielsen ratings’ inability to capture all viewers of any given show. With more people watching shows on demand, and on more devices than just the living room television, all ratings have suffered simply because of so much viewing that isn’t being tracked. Some of these supposedly low-rated shows may actually be pulling in far more viewers than anyone is realizing. Nielsen is currently working on including some on-demand content in their ratings, but anything watched on other devices besides the TV seem to remain a black hole to the firm.
Despite being part of the ratings measuring problem, Netflix has taken a totally different approach. They don’t reveal ratings or other statistics on what their viewers are watching, believing them to be effectively irrelevant. Their philosophy takes those old hit shows into account, as evidence that shows off to a rocky start can indeed become great and successful over time.
One reason for Netflix’s attitude towards ratings is the nature of their platform. All of their content is available on-demand, unlike the TV networks which at any given time are competing with hundreds of other channels for a finite number of eyeballs. They also don’t have to worry about timeslots, another finite resource on network television. There’s only so many hours in a day and if one show isn’t performing, there are often several others waiting to take its place. While it is expensive to produce television shows, some of them may be able to last a bit longer when served up on-demand rather than taking up a valuable timeslot.
Many former network TV shows have found a second life on the web, regardless of how they performed on the air. Netflix’s own original shows, despite a lack of known ratings, have been widely acclaimed and have been granted additional seasons, leading many to conclude that they have been a success. So what role will ratings play in the future of TV? While there will always be a desire to quantify and examine numbers. As Galileo once said, “Measure what is measureable, and make measurable what is not so.” But with so many new ways to choose and consume programming, just being able to produce a number doesn’t make it particularly useful for anything, as the folks at Netflix point out, dismissing ratings more as a distraction or excuse to justify decisions.
At FreeCast Inc, we believe that users should be able to choose what content to watch, and determine their success for on their own, rather than leaving those decisions up to network executives. Part of the beauty of our service is that it gives even niche content a home where it can be found and appreciated by the right audience, which would never be possible on traditional television.