Remember back in the olden days when the number of TV stations could be counted on one hand? Well, neither can I because I’m not a hundred years old, but you get the idea. Regardless of whether or not we lived through that era, we still know it was easy to gauge what people were watching on the tube back then. There were only a few channels to watch and only one way to watch them.
Now, we have computers and tablets and iPhones – oh, and these weird new watches that can make phone calls and do your laundry, or whatever. Yet, for some God-awful reason, network TV is still measuring who watches what in essentially the same way it did back when most of this technology didn’t exist.
It’d be like public opinion firms choosing not to survey cell phone users and only including land-liners. They would be leaving out a whole group of people that is growing in size just because they didn’t adapt to changing technologies. The omitted group, of course, would be much younger than the rest of the population. Polling results, I suspect, would be less accurate and more conservative-leaning.
In the same way, it’s almost a given that most folks who are viewing content on the internet skew younger than those who primarily watch television. Not accounting for those people leads to television programming that is watered down in order to appeal to a broad, but still shrinking number of people.
Let’s call this the Jay Leno effect – the ratings are great, but only because it’s easy to understand and appeals to the masses. And, let’s face it: people like being able to sit in front their televisions drooling into a cup while the flashing screen makes them feel smarter.
You think “The Big Bang Theory” is intelligent and revolutionary TV? False. It’s just another formulaic network sitcom that follows the same boring rules, so it can appeal broadly and win big in the ratings game. And, kudos to them, it’s a ratings powerhouse.
The same goes for those mind-numbing procedural dramas where a variation of the same crime is committed and solved all within an hour. Spoiler alert: someone will be killed, raped, or kidnapped in the first five minutes; law enforcement will then interrogate ten different street vendors or school janitors to get a lead; and they will catch that scum just when you thought this episode might end differently than the previous 40 million.
High ratings do not equal quality programming. In fact, a lot of the time it’s the opposite that’s true.
Think about it: how can a show possibly appeal to both 20-somethings and their grandmas? It has to be beaten to a pulp, have the life sucked out of it, and basically tell people when to laugh or be scared.
As a result, we are seeing a younger generation of people – a population that is growing – avoid network television and find their entertainment elsewhere. Streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, as well cable channels like AMC or A&E, are offering shows that have a freaking creative pulse and – gasp – make people use their brains once in a while.
The archaic Nielsen rating system still seems to be the Bible of network television. But it doesn’t foster creativity and craft good programming – it deters it by virtually ignoring technological changes and dismissing the demands of those who fall under their outdated radar.
Sure, this is great for consumers, myself included, who have fallen in love with Netflix and other streaming services that allow us to spend endless hours binge-watching our new favorite shows. But it’s killing network television as we once knew it.
And there’s something a little bit sad about that.