This is a guest post by Guinevere Orvis. Guinevere is a Web Producer in Toronto, Canada working both freelance and in the broadcast industry for Alliance Atlantis, CTVglobemedia and currently CBC. She has 10 years experience in the online space and specializes in social media, online marketing and content production.
If you’re a TV exec, there’s a magical number that you worship to measure your show’s success… those digits handed down on high from Neilsen ratings. Traditionally, little else mattered, but the television landscape is drastically changing. Is it time our success measurement tools change too?
Our online audience numbers have grown to a level where they’re demanding serious attention. Show promotions, trailers and clips that broadcasters are pushing on YouTube and other video sharing sites are getting more views than some shows do. Television is reaching a milestone where online is veritably driving on air viewership. Neilsen TV isn’t the only game in town anymore. If we are going to understand what our audience wants, we have to consider a bigger picture.
So, if YouTube numbers matter, what about members on a Facebook fan group? What about mashups and fan art? How about BitTorrent downloads? Yeah you heard me: maybe we should use unsanctioned downloads of our shows as a measurement of legitimate demand.
Tech-savvy consumers have been boldly declaring that piracy can help and not hinder industry for years (especially when it comes to music downloads), but I was shocked the first time I heard the same claim from another group: from some very knowledgeable marketing types one day over a year ago in a boardroom. One of them simply asked, “Is the show on BitTorrent? How many people are downloading it?” The rest of the group looked genuinely interested in the answer from a demand point of view, not from an outraged one. I’ve since heard the same thing again several times, from different companies.
An even more interesting thing has started to happen: unofficial, but sanctioned television show leaks on BitTorrent. Broadcasters aren’t posting their shows directly on PirateBay yet, but they are talking informally and giving copies of shows to a friend of a friend who is unaffiliated with the company to make a torrent. Why? Well, it’s partially an experiment, but the hope is that distribution of content this way will lead to new viewers that wouldn’t have been reached through traditional marketing means. Early signs indicate that these experiments are working.
The hit TV series Weeds has had some high profile “unofficial” leaks of their shows prior to airing on television. When a show is on BitTorrent that hasn’t yet aired, it’s a fairly good indicator that there’s a insiders nod-and-wink at play. The Weeds show producer Jenji Kohan hinted at both her approval of the leaks and the reasons behind them, “Revenue aside, I don’t expect to get rich on Weeds, I’m excited it’s out there. Showtime is great, but it does have a limited audience.” Weeds ratings continue to grow and leaks seem to be part of their ongoing strategy.
While the Motion Picture Association of America is uploading fake torrents of movies to discourage torrent use, mainstream television show producers are engaging in flirtatious trials with torrents as a viable new way to promote their programs and reach new audiences. Clearly content producers & distributors don’t agree on how to deal with this technology and the battle will wage on for some time. In the meantime, seeders and leechers are building a business case for digital distribution by proving demand.
BitTorrent and the like are simply new distribution models and the number of our viewers choosing to view our content this way is as relevant as those still choosing to watch on broadcast television. What’s missing is the definitive business model for online that has existed for decades for TV. My prediction is that one single model won’t emerge and that we’ll monetize our content in as many different ways as there are to distribute it.