As Jericho cast member Brad Beyer (Stanley Richmond) and Kristin from E! Online spoke Thursday afternoon, he pointed out the obvious:
"We consistently held 8 or 9 million viewers, even going up against Idol, so everyone was really surprised and shocked that we were canceled. You have to move on and let go, but you see all this fan support and you keep that tiny bit of hope in your heart."
But those numbers are Nielsen numbers. And Nielsen numbers are being put under ever-increasing scruntity by, well, everybody. Enough so that Michelle Malkin picked up Find The Boots by Boon Doggie's May 22 story that "went out on a limb" to say that the Save Jericho campaign will change the way old media interacts with the Internet. He's not the only one.
"We were all stunned when we didn't get the second-season pickup, but our fans have completely surprised us. This outpouring of support means the world to the Jericho cast and crew. Knowing that Jericho touches so many people has completely humbled us," Karim Zreik, producer of Jericho, told E! Online. "I don't know what's going to happen next. CBS and Paramount are still weighing their options. We hope to know more by next week."
The fan standpoint is obvious: CBS let us down, but we'll forgive them if they bring the show back. Nielsen let us down, because it does not count everyone. There is nothing to forgive. Ouch.
According to Nielsen, it has been working hard to abandon family diaries (like my family once had), and leverage technology that exceeds current TV audience measurements — stuff that will track everything about consumers, from what movies they like to which ones would rather go to a live ball game than tune in to a show.
The interim step has been trying to install meters on all sorts of devices, ranging from VCRs, DVDs, cable boxes, and modems. But what we may be seeing with a show like Jericho is that the Nielsen family sampling size has grown too thin as the company has made a greater effort to track specific demographics on the front end. As a result, shows like Jericho are not accurately measured and fan passion is not even a factor.
There are currently two selection methods: geographic selection (area probability sampling) in the national sample and larger markets, and randomly-generated telephone numbers (Total Telephone Frame) in smaller markets. And the reality is, especially in smaller markets, only about 2 million people are filling in dairies during "sweeps." (Oh, only about 25,000 meters exist.) So, in essence, what one family watches can influence about 22,000 viewing homes.
Nielsen Media Research says that its ability to answer more and more detailed questions about consumers will shape how the media industry functions in the 21st century.
But today, the company is only employing quantitative "democratic" measures in an increasingly interactive world that demands more qualitative considerations. As someone who understands media placement on the advertising side, it seems clear to me that Nielsen is an important tool in capturing some sort of measure. But it cannot be the only measure.
Sure, I think Nielsen would have been better off, years ago, partnering with cable companies and giving consumers the opportunity to opt in with the Nielsen ratings system, which would have increased the sampling size. But they didn't. And now it seems it is becoming more difficult for one of America's best known research companies to leapfrog to the next system while installing old media meters.
I would be remiss to suggest that CBS Entertainment use Nielsen as the scapegoat for the network's analysis of the data. But it is very clear that measurement mix is no longer just 8-9 million viewers represented by Nielsen families. The data is also about 450,000 viewers online, thousands of iTunes downloads, tons and tons of nuts, and an ad campaign that strikes at the very heart of the network's intelligence.
What does this mean?
Well, if I were Nina Tassaler, president of CBS Entertainment, I would call a press conference on Tuesday morning. Then, standing in front of a mountain of nuts and holding up the Jericho fan ads, I would put on my famous Tassler smile and say ...
"Remember how I once told The Hollywood Reporter that we're all about continuing to build our younger audience while making sure that we hold on to our core audience? Well, we still are. Jericho fans … congratulations! You just made television history and we here at CBS have listened! We look forward to bringing you a second season of Jericho."