Sunday, June 10, 2007

Why Did It Take 45,000 Pounds of Peanuts For CBS To Recognize Addicted Customer Adoption?

The TV show Jericho just went through quite the dramatic storyline, and it didn't happen on the show itself. It was cancelled by CBS because the Nielsen ratings showed decline up until the season finale. This caused fans to send emails, make phone calls and even send over 25 tons of peanuts to the studio based on a line in the finale where a character won't surrender and replies, "Nuts." Ultimately, CBS entertainment chief Nina Tassler wrote a letter to fans on the Jericho website:

"You got our attention; your emails and collective voice have been heard," Tassler wrote, adding that she'll consider more episodes if the show gets good ratings. To that end, she encouraged fans to keep up their campaign on behalf of "Jericho."

"A loyal and passionate community has clearly formed around the show. But that community needs to grow," Tassler wrote. "It needs to grow on the CBS Television Network, as well as on the many digital platforms where we make the show available. We will count on you to rally around the show, to recruit new viewers with the same grass-roots energy, intensity and volume you have displayed in recent weeks."

Tassler said CBS will try to pump up "Jericho" by repeating the show on the net this summer and streaming episodes on its CBS Audience Network. She also made vague mention of "continuing the story of Jericho in the digital world until the new episodes return."

This letter blames the fans for low ratings and even threatens them that if the low Nielsen ratings continue it will be cancelled again. Here's an idea at a better response: "Thank you for your loyalty. Make sure you keep sending the nuts because without them we have no other way to track what is important to you."

Clearly the Nielsen Ratings failed to illustrate an important component to the value of this TV program. While Jericho doesn't have the same number of eyeballs that American Idol has, I'm pretty sure that if they cancelled Idol that you would not see anyone spending their hard earned money to send peanuts anywhere. A smaller fan base but much more passionate about the content. By the way, CBS also had Jericho up against Idol in the same time slot.

I don't think you can blame Nielsen here. You have to look at the people who consume Neilsen ratings and blame them for not digging for deeper data. In this Long Tail world there has to be a better way for traditional businesses to better capture more than just the top level of customer data. Maybe the business model of television can't adapt easily to selling less of more with the cost of producing a TV series, but there's more than just a single show's value at stake here. The brand of the network is impacted when you show that you don't care about what viewers are clearly passionate about.

People did demonstrate that they cared deeply about Jericho well before they had to send peanuts. There was the data that showed that Jericho's audience grew more than any other CBS scripted show IF you included DVR playback data. It also was the only CBS scripted show to have its own dedicated recap page on the chat site This is not passive data. People were investing a lot of time and data was there for CBS to be aware of it.

I blogged about OnNetworks not that long ago. Their process seems to place a lot more value on the passion that CBS was casting aside. They get ideas, create them in high quality through prosourcing and then deliver the shows online where social buzz and fanaticism can grow organically. This is all before going to traditional TV broadcast. If they see user interaction snowballing as it did with Jericho, they would be the ones to send peanuts somewhere, not the viewers. It seems as if they are ready for what Tassler vaguely refers to as the "digital world."

I'm reminded of the strange path the Geico Cavemen are on (Here's a great mashup of them). ABC is creating a sitcom around the miffed Cro-Magnons due out this fall. There are a bunch of stories around this odd impetus for a sitcom which ask questions like, "Could Cavemen success lead to more commercial sitcoms?" I think they are missing the point. It's not that it was a commercial; it was that it was viral. Anything viral could lead to a sitcom, where decades ago it was really the complete opposite. People in the 70s would regularly walk around mimicking Fonzie or Mork from Ork. Ayyyyyyyy, Shazbut. Now it is the Star Wars kid or the Numa Numa guy. Where are their shows?

1 comment:

Jericho Saved said...

Thank you for an excellent article. We need to change the way networks count viewers.