Wednesday, June 13

Hitting Networks: From Jericho To The Sopranos

Passive viewers are now active consumers. For networks, it is the only conclusion that can come out of the recent Jericho cancellation reversal. But what I wonder sometimes is how far fans will take their debate. For HBO, Sopranos fans took it to the extreme, protesting not over the end of their favorite show, but the way it ended.

As if they were participating in a hit, fans flocked to HBO’s Web site in such volume, the entire site crashed immediately following the end of the finale. The cause for the traffic—an estimated 368,000 page views per second according to eWeek—was largely attributed to the blank screen that appeared preceding the credits. Creator David Chase intended this ending in order to leave the Sopranos family future wide open, but the fans are not biting.

"Every critic says this is one of the greatest works of art ever made for the small screen," said Robert Thompson, of Syracuse University's Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture, told Jocelyn Noveck, Associated Press. "You can't second-guess the artist."

But fans think otherwise, enough so HBO is considering an alternative ending for the DVD. Whether that comes to fruition or not, it won’t stop fans from screaming “finish the story already!” or, taking a page from the Jericho playbook, “has someone mentioned we need a petition to ask Chase and HBO to continue the series or make a movie?” on fansites like The Sopranos.com.

That depends, I imagine. The primary difference between Jericho and The Sopranos was that The Sopranos came to an end from the inside out. Most people involved in the project were ready to move on after a long run. On the other hand, fans do seem to be leveraging the network to reconsider as they cancel HBO subscriptions.

One question in this case begins with: where does creative license end and fan input begin? No one knows, because, to date, only Heroes on NBC has made an official commitment to involve fans in the creative process. Fans will be able to vote in one of six new characters after their standalone mid-season stories are told.

Given the consumer climate today, especially in regard to entertainment, it’s a smart move, especially after Jericho fans proved they can influence change. Even the Veronica Mars fans reinforce this idea. The CW might not have picked up the series for a fourth season despite fans sending in about 7,000 candy bars and 438 pounds of marshmallows, but fans might win in another way.

"I think the best odds for seeing the continuation of the Veronica Mars story is in comic-book form,” Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas recently told E! Online. “I had a meeting with DC Comics last week. They want to do the series. I want to do the series. It's just a matter of making a deal and figuring out when I have the time to write it. And perhaps a feature screenplay will follow."

So even with a late-breaking campaign to save the show (and they’re still working at it), fans still managed to demonstrate there is more mileage left in this character. That’s great news for consumers, not so great news for Nielsen Media Research, which continues to come under fire from, well, everybody who watches television.

Some people even blame the rating system for advertising spending on television being down .6 percent because Nielsen, they say, continues to report ratings that do not reflect fan passion or even an accurate accounting of viewers. Instead, advertising money is being increasingly funneled to the Internet, which is up almost 32 percent in the first three months of 2007, according to, well, Nielsen.

As CBS is working on new ways to measure fans beyond Nielsen, which is a direct result of Jericho fans lobbying to be counted, the venerable research company is working to improve its television measure and diversifying its research capabilities. On June 6, the company said it is moving ahead with its Nielsen Wireless service, which will measure usage on all television and video platforms, including personal video devices such as mobile phones.

"The value of an entertainment medium is directly proportional to how well it is measured," said Jeff Herrmann, vice president of Nielsen. "Reliable and accurate measurement of mobile consumers will enable advertisers to properly evaluate the mobile marketing opportunity.”

They are right, of course. Network measurement needs to expand rapidly to become more inclusive in order to keep pace with the comprehensive analytics of the Internet, regardless of the device.

Jericho fans proved this without question and are starting to demonstrate that these new rules apply well beyond entertainment. It’s only a matter of time before consumers chime in on everything, en masse, enough so to take down a Web site.

Digg!

24 comments:

Jericho Saved on 6/13/07, 10:02 AM said...

Thank you for another fantastic article! You just keep on rocking! We do want to be counted but I've read assorted articles about advertisers being the ones who don't want to do things differently. They need to wake up & smell the money.

Donna on 6/13/07, 10:11 AM said...

Without HBO, I was never a Soprano watcher (though I have no excuse now that it plays in other outlets--too busy watching Jericho on Innertube I guess!). It is so much easier for fans to make themselves heard now, with bulletin boards and e-mail, and to assure them that they are not alone in their opinions. This makes organized protest much more likely and available. Twenty years ago Soprano fans would have been grumbling about the ending at the water cooler. Today they are all sitting at their desks e-mailing the execs about their frustration! Fun times!

Rich on 6/13/07, 10:14 AM said...

Hey Jericho Saved! Well, some advertisers are reluctant because if the networks can prove greater viewership, then networks can potentially charge greater rates. Not to mention, agency media buyers across the country will have to remix their skill sets because buying will not be as easy as it used to be, at least for network television.

I am not surprised. The communication industry, by in large, has been slow to embrace social media because they are not sure how to blend what they know with what they need to know. (And there is a lot they need to know.)

Have no fear, all of this will be changing soon enough. While some advertisers do not want to ride this train, this train will ride on anyway.

Rich on 6/13/07, 10:16 AM said...

Donna! Spot on observation.

Social media has changed everything in that it brings people who would have never otherwise known each together in new and interesting ways. It is that connectivity that empowers mass movements, for better or worse. :)

steffi320 on 6/13/07, 10:26 AM said...

With the recent Jericho revival, us Black Donnelly fans have come back to life in our campigan. We would love to find a new home for the series. This show was cancelled way too soon. It had no time to gain a loyal fanbase. NBC was unfair to it's fans and refused to listen to our thousands upon thousands of phone calls, letters and emails. This outraged us even more. We feel we were ripped off by the shows ending. It was left with a major cliff hanger leaving us wanting more. Our campiagn sites can be found out www.savetheblackdonnellys.net and www.thefirecrackerlounge.com

Thank you!

kystorms on 6/13/07, 10:45 AM said...

I knew today's article was going to be great! I can not even imagine that many people hitting a website all at once like that! I knew the minute the screen went blank that millions across the country were going to go, well..nuts! I love that we are making change, growth is the best part of life.
I agree with Jericho saved, the advertisers also need to get on the same page as the rest of us, time to embrace today's technology.

Greg Cooper on 6/13/07, 10:56 AM said...

Rich....another great piece. You've become required reading to start my day.

Forgive the request here but do you allow other sites to post a link to your page?

Thank you,
GregCooper2007.blogspot.com

Rich on 6/13/07, 10:58 AM said...

Hey Steffi! I did not know that, which certainly lends well to the discussion. You might want to tell the fans though that "The Black Donnellys" aren't quite dead.

According to Business Television, High-definition programmer HDNet announced that it will air all 13 episodes of the NBC drama, after reaching a rights agreement with NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution. The first episode of the Donnellys series will air on HDNet on Wednesday, June 13, at 8:00 p.m. EDT, in the 1080-line interlace (1080i) HD format. So there you go!

While it certainly is not a return to television per se, it demonstrates that the future of network programming is being written, right now, on the fly. I think we are going to live in a world where entertainment does not always die, but rather can come up from the Internet (WALLStrip) or be shuffled down from the network to the Internet.

Add to this technology that will let you watch or ready anything you want anywhere you want, and it evens the playing field. Have faith ... I think the future of entertainment, news, etc. will get better. So Kystorms, you are spot on (don't worry, nothing motivates advertisers like ROI).

By the way, I am told there is a new Nielsen petition being circulated... check it out:

http://www.petitiononline.com/62951S/petition.html

Rich on 6/13/07, 11:01 AM said...

Hi Greg! First and foremost, thank you.

To answer your question, the only time I have asked any site not to link to me is if they are a spam site (or splog). So please feel free to link to me as you like ... the honor would be mine. I've read your blog and it's very good.

All my best,
Rich

SaveJake on 6/13/07, 11:22 AM said...

I am also a Sopranos fan, have been for years. I work for cable...fans have always subscribed to HBO around the Sopranos seasons. They turn it on when the season starts and off when it ends. HBO has found other ways to keep viewers over the years and will again. When I realized it wasn't the digital box going out Sunday night, I then realized it was the best possible ending for everyone. I thought it was brilliant.
Now to all Sopranos fans...please watch Jericho. It is a truly incredible program. As television consumers, we need to stick together.

Rich on 6/13/07, 3:36 PM said...

Hey SaveJake! Now that's an interesting take on it. On one hand the Sopranos fans have an edge in having longevity behind their fan base, but on the other, people keep telling me it had a good life.

Even more surprising to me was at least one Sopranos fans went beyond protest and vandalized (if that's the right word?) the creator's Wikipedia entry (It's fixed, but it shows just how angry some people are).

Teresa Rothaar on 6/13/07, 6:24 PM said...

I theorize that one reason why advertisers are shunning TV for the Internet is that online ads let them track something that's a lot more important than gross viewer tallies: ROI. Advertisers know not only how many people saw an ad, but how many clicked on it and how many actually bought something.

It doesn't matter if 14 million people saw your ad if none of them bought your product.

Rich on 6/13/07, 7:09 PM said...

Hi Teresa! You are partly right.

There is a disproportionate split (meaning it is not 50-50) on how to track advertising, including the Internet.

Direct response folks tend to want to pay based on click through or direct purchases (they like lots of direct mail too). Other folks do not think click through and direct purchases are the end all to total integrated communication.

Here's an example, using my blog. I will be the first to say if you are going to write anything, you really owe it to yourself to own an Associated Press Style Manual. I have a link right there on my sidebar, direct to Amazon. You can buy it at a discount.

So maybe you click on it or maybe you don't. Maybe you buy it, maybe you don't. Is this an appropriate ROI? Not really. There are too many other possibilities. You click on it and bookmark for another day. You could look for it again (but never click through on my site). You could go out and buy one at the bookstore in person. You might forget about it for months and then one day, out of the blue, decide to buy one. You could ask a friend and they might convince you to buy a Chicago Style Manual instead.

My point is that I might have influenced you on a Style Manual, but due to any number of factors, you might buy it in a way that I'll never be able to track it. Make sense? :)

Ironically, in advertising, everybody is right and wrong at the same time because advertising or communication in total is never black and white.

Oh, something else of interest ... the number of times that those 14 million have to see your ad has significantly increased over the years before it even has a chance to influence your purchasing decision. Gosh, hope I didn't bore you with all that. When I say I love my job, I really do. ;)

mija71 on 6/13/07, 10:41 PM said...

Thank you for responding to Steffi's comment about The Black Donnellys and for passing along the word about the re-airing of TBD on HDNet. The Black Donnellys fans are far from finished. We are now targeting HBO with our shamrocks, quarters, and crackers campaign. (The quarters are a reference to the Donnellys' jukebox and the crackers represent the "firecrackers", or fans whose name is taken from the Donnellys fictional bar, the Firecracker Lounge. HBO was chosen as the target of the campaign based on the quality of its current shows, the edginess of its programming, and the number of HBO fans who are already interested in family mob dramas. (We're all still mourning the end of the Sopranos.) As Steffi noted, the Save The Black Donnellys campaign organizers have created a new campaign website at www.savetheblackdonnellys.net to inform other fans about the campaign efforts. There are daily action items and a spot to donate to the shamrocks, quarters, and cracker campaign. With the end of the Sopranos, we plan to send a mass shipment of crackers to HBO during the upcoming days to encourage them to pick up the Black Donnellys. We ask fans of quality television shows everywhere to join our campaign to bring back the Black Donnellys for season 2.

Rich on 6/14/07, 6:33 AM said...

Thanks Mija, that's a very good sum up of your efforts. Keep me posted.

As far as I know, no fan base has ever successfully moved a show from one network to another (that I know of). But that doesn't mean it isn't possible. A few weeks ago, no one would have believed a fan base could send 8 million nuts to a network either.

You know, if you are able to do it, it could really mark another wrinkle in how in networks of the future operate, perhaps giving shows more autonomy in finding a home. Of course, at the moment, that's just a thought. :)

Greg Cooper on 6/14/07, 8:12 AM said...

Rich...thank you for your permission to link. While I don't quite have NYT types of readership (stunning, I know), you will still find your link above Tom's on my blog. It's very much appreciated to have your experience and thoughts as a resource on my site.

All the best.
GC

Rich on 6/14/07, 8:24 AM said...

Greg, really, thank you. I'm honored.

For me, the measure of the link is not in your readership, but rather in your assessment that we're doing something worth reading. BTW, I love some of the homes you show! Makes me want to leave our dusty little city of lights, but that's another story. :)

In admiration,
Rich

Greg Cooper on 6/14/07, 8:38 AM said...

Thanks again Rich....btw we're updated today replacing dignified residential real estate photos with a picture/tie in with the character Denny Crane. That's about how nutty my business has gotten.

gregcooper2007.blogspot.com

Take Care,
GC

Rich on 6/14/07, 4:54 PM said...

That's funny Greg.

I made blog T-shirts to giveaway at a luncheon I will be speaking at in July. The tag... "Covering Nuts."

You're in good company. : )

PlatPat on 6/14/07, 6:05 PM said...

Now someone has to wake up the advertisers to the fact that the 18-49 yo demographic is based on a flawed model from the 50's. The Boomers are totally different consumers than their parents. Their parents lived through the depression and World War, they were careful with their money. Boomers are typically better off than their parents were in their 50's and spend freely, yet advertisers do not value their TV viewing habits enough to want to advertise to them -- the largest generation and the first to grow up on TV. What's that about?

Rich on 6/14/07, 7:00 PM said...

Platpat,

I thought you knew. Boomers are supposed to be too busy doing volunteer work to watch TV.

Or maybe, you're watching shows for younger audiences, making you young at heart! :)

Ruth on 6/15/07, 4:30 AM said...

Hi Rich,

I enjoyed reading your article. You brought up a lot of great points. How far do you let the fans debate or contribute their creative input? I know, that when a show has been on for awhile like "The Sopranos" or have gathered a large fan following, no one would be happy to see it end. I think part of the reason why is because the audience has found that gem amongst other inferior shows. It's difficult to let go. There's definitely no hopefuls in most of any networks fall or summer line ups. It's disappointing. Why let go of something you know is great, when networks respond with lack luster shows.

That's how I see that debate.

As for Jericho rising from cancellation.. due to erred Nielsen ratings.. I think that's wonderful and it shows the opposite of the debate. I hope more shows like Jericho could rise from the ashes.. like The Black Donnellys.

It's the case where networks focus on Nielsen ratings solely.. and they panic. In the case of Jericho, they had the advantage and a huge following before it went on hiatus. With The Black Donnellys, NBC didn't give them a chance to thrive. They really did put it in a dreadful time slot to begin with.

In that case it really is up to the fans to debate and support the shows so that way networks know that Nielsen isn't the only voice in making a show successful. I would love to call it a rebellion.. but I think, it shows that the audience isn't goint to sit back and relax and take whatever is given to them. They have the a right in shaping what is being viewed.

Thanks -
http://www.savetheblackdonnellys.net

paigec71 on 6/15/07, 8:05 AM said...

"The value of an entertainment medium is directly proportional to how well it is measured," said Jeff Herrmann, vice president of Nielsen. "Reliable and accurate measurement of mobile consumers will enable advertisers to properly evaluate the mobile marketing opportunity.”

With DVR/TIVO how is this really measured anymore? The Black Donnellys had 6 to 7 million viewers (my stats may be off a bit but in the general vicinity) and was pulled after 5 episodes because the "ratings had dropped a bit". How was this measured? And does poor marketing, time slot and Hereos on hiatus have anything to do with it? The show was not marketed well to begin with at least not like Hereos was. I have DVR so I am one of those that record, watch later and fly through the commercials. So, maybe I just missed the ads for The Black Donnellys?? Well, with DVR I sure did see a lot of Heroes advertisements.

On another note, the community boards were created for fans to discuss their favorite shows. Don't you think that the networks would spend time looking at this? The Black Donnelly fans don't think NBC used this as a tool and I'm not sure that CBS used this as a tool until Jericho fans sent nuts.

It will be interesting to see how ratings are measured in the future. In the meantime, I hope that other networks will pay attention to fans of The Black Donnelly campaign as well as Jericho and other fans fighting for their shows!

Rich on 6/15/07, 12:15 PM said...

Thanks for dropping by. Maybe I should mention that yes, although I never watched it, The Black Donnellys are on my radar in the near future, mostly because the fans of that show are taking a different tact.

What I wonder about most, though, is if the actors aren't so long gone that only the concept would survive beyond seeing the full series on HDNet.

All my best, Rich

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